JOHANNESBURG – Despite the heat-wave that has hit Gauteng, Glendower Golf Course is in better condition than last year and it will play more difficult, too, when the South African Open tees off in Ekurhuleni on Thursday.
The blazing temperatures of the last week have made life difficult for head greenkeeper Mike Burnard, but he said yesterday that the professionals he has spoken to over the last few days have given him the thumbs up.
“They’re all happy with the course and the layout. It’s set up the same as last year, but the word is it’s in better nick and playing more difficult. The good thing is the rough’s all at the same length at 90mm deep, unlike last year,” Burnard said.
“I’m happy with the condition, even though there’s some heat stress, but I would have liked the greens running a bit faster. The guys though wanted them at 12, so that’s what we’ve got.”
Back to defend the title he won last year is England’s Graeme Storm, who famously beat Rory McIlroy after four extra holes in a playoff, for arguably the biggest and most important win of his career.
But while he’ll be joined by a number of European Tour stars like Chris Wood, former champions Andy Sullivan and Morten Orum Madsen, and Jamie Donaldson, Lucas Bjerregaard and Soren Kjeldsen, in this co-sanctioned event, it is the large group of SA’s finest players who’ll draw the biggest crowds.
SA’s most recent winner of the second oldest Open in the world, Brandon Stone - who won in 2016 - will be keen to start the season on a high after a tough 2017 season while Erik van Rooyen, winner of the SA PGA Championship last year and runner up at the Joburg Open in December will also want a positive start to the year.
But it will possibly be the presence of Nedbank Golf Challenge champion Branden Grace that will get the fans flocking to Glendower. Grace was in stunning form at Sun City in November last year as he ended an 11-year wait for a local winner and he, too, will want to get his year off to a winning start. Other locals who’ll be well followed include Dean Burmester, George Coetzee, Darren Fichardt, Dylan Frittelli and Haydn Porteous - all players who have the game to challenge strongly for the title, one every SA golfer wants to win.
Former Masters champions Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman are also in the field this week, the former also chasing his first national open title, while Immelman will be hoping for a decent showing in a tournament he won in 2003 and 2004.
The host this week in Ekurhuleni, Ernie Els, will, as usual, have a big group of fans following him around the close-to 7 000m course. The five-time winner, going back to 1992, will join fellow “veteran” Canadian Mike Weir as others in the field to have won major titles - Els the Open twice and US Open twice, and Weir the Masters in 2003.