A new year, and the chance to make a few new memories is what both Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington are hoping for in this week’s Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club.
Goosen makes his first competitive start following a five-month layoff after back surgery to repair a damaged disc. And he’s hoping to draw on the memories of a golf course that has always been good to him, most recently with his second-place finish behind Ernie Els in the 2010 South Africa Open here.
“I like Durban Country Club and am just looking forward to having a good week. I’m not sitting here expecting to win. But you know, the last three years has been a struggle with my back, and I tried everything. Now I’ve had five months without painkillers, which cleans out your system. My mind is also clearer. I’ve forgotten all the bad shots and now need to remember some good ones.”
Goosen has played six rounds of golf in the last few weeks, beginning slowly with a few half shots.
“It’s now all about getting my strength and timing back. The back feels great. I just need to work on my swing and find a bit of game. But I’m very excited about the new year and feel like I’ve got a better chance of playing well now than I’ve had in the last few years.”
Goosen also likes the condition of the course that will welcome him back to the game this week.
“The course is in great shape. They had a lot of rain in December and there are a few fairways that are a bit rough. But the greens are great. I do think it will play a lot tougher than when we played the SA Open here in 2010. At least 10 shots tougher, especially if the wind blows like this.”
Harrington also has fond memories of Durban Country Club, which is where he played his first European Tour event 17 years ago and which convinced him he really belonged in the professional arena. This despite playing “terribly” in a week where he finished tied 49th.
“I rang home and said, ‘Mum, I’ve just finished 49th, I won £1480 (R20 000) – and I couldn’t have played much worse. They are just giving it away!’ Back then, £1480 was a fortune. The most I had ever won before that was about £300 (R4000).
“So it gave me great momentum, because having played poorly from tee to green, I walked away from the tournament thinking: ‘Wow, I can play a lot better, and yet I still made the cut, and I still made some money.’ So I really felt like I belonged. Seventeen years on, it would be great to phone her again on Sunday.”
One of the added incentives for the 33-man field this week is the unique hole-in-one prizes.
Apart from the traditional luxury car, in this case a Volvo V40, on the par-three 12th hole, there is also a Volvo Compact Excavator EC55 for an ace on the par-three 15th, and a Volvo FH Truck for a hole-in-one on the short par-four 18th.
“I’d definitely like the truck,” said Goosen. “I can use it to move the grapes around on my wine farm.”