JOHANNESBURG – It's a great pity for us locals, but for a couple of reasons you can’t really blame Dean “Belter” Burmester for opting not to defend his title in this week’s Tshwane Open at Pretoria Country Club.
The tournament, you see, runs from today until Sunday, as does the WGC-Mexico Championship at the Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City.
Tshwane, co-sanctioned by the European and Sunshine Tours, has a R15 million purse. Not to be sneezed at, but the WGC event, for which Burmester has for the first time cracked the nod, offers a prize fund of $10 million, with no cut, so a fat cheque is guaranteed.
That amount of greenbacks, in spite of our own strengthening currency against the dollar, translates to a whopping R120 million or thereabouts. So yes, money talks.
Really looking forward to this week at @WGCMexico. I'm ready to take my career to a new level.
Thank you to my sponsors for being a part of opportunities such as this@TaylorMadeGolf @TaylorMadeSA @SrixonGolf @adidasGolf @Beachcomber_ @Investec_Sport @Birdies4Rhinos #WGCMexico pic.twitter.com/9JVcEHEfSz
There’s another reason for Burmester being there, though. We all know about the golf ball up in the Highveld’s thin air travelling a long way. Okay, Pretoria, at about 1340m above sea level, is not as high as Joburg’s 1750m, but Mexico City soars to a heady 2250m. This is mountain-top golf. The ball goes forever.
Grip-it-and-rip-it Burmester, one of the longest hitters anywhere, normally whacks his tee-shots the proverbial mile. Now it’s going to be two proverbial miles. Huge money, huge hits. The “Belter” couldn’t resist.
Golf is growing in Mexico and all the big guns are there, including defending champion and world No 1 Dustin Johnson. And along with Burmester, we have there in the land of the tortilla and tequila, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthiuzen, Brandon Stone and the gifted Dylan Frittelli, who played pretty well in the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic last week, finishing a shot ahead of a somewhat resurgent Tiger Woods.
Back home in the Tshwane Open, the home fans will at least be pleased that George Coetzee is in the line-up at the club where he has been a member since age 10 when he switched from swinging a racquet to chasing birdies.
Golfers talk with not just a small degree of trepidation about the back nine on a Sunday and the great pressure that goes with it when a player is contending for a win in a big-money tournament.
This is what Coetzee faced in the final round of the 2015 Tshwane Open, but he handled the tension-packed final nine holes with steely nerves to sign for a five-under-par 65, a 14-under 266 aggregate, and a one-shot victory.
“To win in front of friends and family at my home club is particularly sweet,” Coetzee said at the time. “I could feel the crowd behind me, and the momentum grew as the round progressed.”
Two hours earlier, Jacques Blaauw had signed for a brilliant course record 61 to be clubhouse leader on 13-under 267. Coetzee knew exactly what he had to do as he entered the back nine at 12-under. Yes, he had a target, but with precise shots still needing to be played and a lot of money on the line, it was enough to get the nerves jangling. But he did what was asked of him.
“What helped me was remembering club championships I won here as a youngster. I knew where to be aggressive, where to hold back. The short, tricky par-four 17th was key. I once lost a club champs there because I played it conservatively.
Today I knew I had to be aggressive and I went for the green with my drive. Okay, I didn’t actually make it, but was close enough to hit a great little punch shot next to the flag and get what was effectively a match-winning birdie.”
Yep, for both fans and players it’s going to be a nerve-jangling week in Pretoria and Mexico City. Watch the aggression.