De Jonge playing for his childhood idol at Presidents Cuptext sizeBrendon de Jonge first met International Team captain Nick Price while getting an autograph as a teenager.September 26, 2013
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
Brendon de Jonge was a teenager, probably 15 or 16 years old, when he first met Nick Price.
Price had returned home, as was his custom, to play in the Zimbabwe Open, a tournament he won three times. De Jonge was torn between cricket and golf, but on that particular day he had come to see the man who would go on to win three major championships and spend 44 weeks as the world's No. 1 golfer.
"I was a little kid out getting autographs and got a book signed," recalled de Jonge, who still has the program at home. "... We're a very proud sporting country so we all followed his career very, very closely. Obviously when he was No. 1 in the world in '92, '93, '94, back around there, it was a very proud time for us back in Zimbabwe."
Right now is a pretty proud time for de Jonge, too, after he was picked by the man who was once his idol to play on the International Team in the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village, which begins Thursday in Dublin, Ohio.
"It's obviously very, very fulfilling because it was my major goal starting out last year," de Jonge said. "To make that team is a big accomplishment. I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the team aspect of it. Obviously playing for Nick is icing on the cake."
The 10 automatic qualifiers for Price's squad were finalized after the Deutsche Bank Championship, where de Jonge tied for ninth and ended up 14th in the International Team standings. Price, who had two picks to complete his team, texted him to find out when would be a good time to call the following day.
Luckily for de Jonge, his two young children kept him occupied until the call came about 5 p.m. He could tell by the tone of Price's voice that the news was just what he had hoped to hear.
"I hope you’ve got a beer in your hand because you’re on my team," Price told de Jonge.
Price was impressed by de Jonge's current form -- he finished 19th or better in all four FedExCup Playoffs events, and posted four top-10s this year. Not to mention, the 33-year-old had more rounds in the 60s than anyone on TOUR this year with 48 and also led in par-5 scoring.
"He's getting ready to break through," Price said, adding that de Jonge's left-to-right ball flight is tailor-made for Muirfield Village. "He's in a situation where I think this may be a wonderful break for him, and I think he's going to be a great teammate."
Although there is a 23-year age difference between the two men, Price and de Jonge have become good friends in the decade since de Jonge graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in consumer studies. He spent four of his first five seasons as a pro on the Web.com Tour but has played the PGA TOUR exclusively since 2009.
Price has always been there to lend an ear to the former autograph-seeker, too.
"(He's been) very, very encouraging," de Jonge said. "Anytime I'm struggling with something or want to bounce something off someone he's probably one of the first people I call golf-related."
About five years ago, the World Golf Hall of Famer even called and asked de Jonge if he'd like to stay at Price's house in Hobe Sound, Fla., during The Honda Classic.
"He said, listen, I know it's a little bit of a commute to PGA National but you're more than welcome to come stay at my house," de Jonge recalled. "I'd met him obviously before that and we'd talked on the phone. So it wasn't completely out of the blue."
That said, it was a little bit weird -- at least that first year. But de Jonge, who was inspired by seeing Claret Jug and Wanamaker trophies in Price's collection, has returned every year since.
"(It) took a little bit of time to get comfortable," de Jonge acknowledged. "Obviously, it was someone I've looked up to growing up so to be staying at his house was a little bit intimidating. But in saying that, he's very, very easy to be around, very, very accommodating and he's got that Zimbabwean hospitality. So it was nice."
Those opportunities to have a couple of beers with Price and pick his brain have been priceless for de Jonge. Among the many words of advice Price has given de Jonge is to enjoy himself.
"It is a job but it's a game, as well, and you need to keep enjoying it," he recalled Price saying.
And as for what he's learned about his captain?
"Just that he's a better person than he ever was as a golfer," de Jonge said. "He's fun to be around. He's just a down-to-earth, regular guy. Just a super guy to spend time with.
"I think he'll be great (as a captain). Not only him but his assistants will be a lot of fun, as well. I've gotten to know Tony (Johnstone) and Mark (McNulty) pretty well. So it's going to be a pretty fun locker room."