When you ask about the changes in
Hennie Otto, who won the South African Open
at the end of last year, people say, “He got
God, or something,” before switching the subject. In this day and age, not too many want to
go down that road.
Yet, the 35-year-old Otto’s story is compelling in that he will tell you that he has, quite
literally, seen the light.
As a young man, he was poised to play
rugby for the Springboks until he missed out
on an Under 23 final trial because it coincided
with a golf tournament. He was besotted with
golf and, after turning professional in 1998,
notched a number of wins on the South African Tour before breaking through in Europe
with a victory in the 2008 Italian Open.
That, though, was not the first time the
larger golfing world had paid attention.
In 2001, after rounds of 70 and 80 had cost
him the halfway cut in the Nashua Masters, he
lost his temper in a manner which catapulted
him into every headline. First, he broke all
14 of his clubs in the golf club car park. That
done, he stopped his car on the way home and
tossed the remains into a river. His actions
were the talk of the circuit and, to no one’s
great surprise, he was fined for bringing the
Tour into disrepute.
By way of beginning to explain what was
going on in his life, Otto refers you to 5: 19-21.
Nothing to do with the Rules of Golf but the
Galations, the ninth book of the New Testa-
ment and a verse incorporating assorted
examples of bad behaviour including “immo-
rality, envy, drunkenness and fits of rage.”
He does his best to make the verse sound
slightly less unpalatable: “I had a lovely wife
and family but I wasn’t living my life as I
should. I was drinking, partying, and I was an
Deep down, he knew he was a disaster in
the making, but why would he want to alter
his ways when he was fully capable of drink-
ing through the night before shooting a 64?
At Turnberry, Otto told his friends. They
endeavoured to put a rather more down-to-
earth interpretation on what had happened.
“You were stoned,” they laughed, “and you
finished up under a lamppost. There’s nothing
too odd about that.”
Others have since advanced the suggestion
that it was the sheer beauty of a moonlit Loch
Lomond which could have cast its spell.
Yet it was not long before his friends – and
everyone else for that matter – recognised
that Otto was no longer the man they knew
before that night. He changed and his wife and
two children with him as they all started to
embrace a more Godly way of life.
On Tour, Otto has established a discussion group to help those who want to stick to
rather more than good golfing basics in what
can be a testing environment. At the New
Year, he was hugely moved by a text from a
fellow player who said that Otto’s conversion
had changed him.
You ask Otto a somewhat trite question as
to how his golf has been affected and he says
at once that it didn’t turn him into a winner,
even if the 2011 South African Open was a
milestone in his golfing life.
“What it has done,” he explains, “is to af-
fect the way I handle myself on a bad day. You
don’t go and sulk about it; you have the Lord
on your side and you know that somewhere
along the line your belief will bear fruit.”
Otto has been back to Balloch since that
week in 2009 and discovered that the place
where he fell to his knees was a churchyard.
As for the light, there was no