JOHANNESBURG - Defending champion Darren Fichardt will be relishing the comforts of home as he gets ready for the 2018 version of the Joburg Open which tees off on Thursday.
He won the 2017 version at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington in February, and a schedule change on the European Tour, as well as redevelopments at Royal, mean he will be attempting to become the second South African to win the title twice after Richard Sterne won it in 2008 and 2013 at Randpark Golf Club.
“It’s good to be able to sleep at home and spend some time with the kids,” said Fichardt. “It’s not that long to drive from Centurion to get to the course, and taking advantage of home comforts makes a lot of sense.”
Fichardt won a tournament that was shortened by rain to a 54-hole event in February by a single stroke over Stuart Manley of Wales and Paul Waring of England.
And in another change to the tournament, the Asian Tour is on board as a third sanctioning body of the event, which features the biggest field in any Sunshine Tour or European Tour event with 240 players teeing it up over the Firethorn and Bushwillow courses at Randpark.
The change in venue is not something that bothers Fichardt. “I last played Randpark a few years ago, and it’s pretty much ‘what you see is what you get’,” he said. “I don’t know Bushwillow, so I’ll have to check that out blind tomorrow. But the courses are pretty much standard Highveld parklands courses, and I know those well.
“The greens are running nicely, so I’ll be looking for fairways and greens, and go from there. I’m not worried too much about length, because that’s not much of an issue on either course.”
Fichardt finished 68th on the European tour’s Race to Dubai in the 2017 season, and is looking forward to using the South African events – the Joburg Open, the BMW SA Open and the Tshwane Open – to kick-start his 2018 season.
“I didn’t play as many tournaments as I usually do last year, with family issues,” he said. “My mother-in-law was battling cancer. She’s healthy again, so I’m looking forward to playing a lot more than I did last year. In fact, I didn’t have a bad season last year. I didn’t have a really bad tournament since Switzerland, really.”
He finished in a share of 16th in last week’s AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open in hot, humid, windy conditions, so the persistent rain in the lead-up to the Joburg Open has had him remembering his February victory. “I’m excited to be here for a defence of my title,” he said. “And it’s similar weather to last year, which is a good thing!”