SUN CITY – Knowledge of the Gary Player Country Club layout, rather than current form, will be the key this week at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, according to Branden Grace.
The 29-year-old will be teeing it up at Sun City for the fourth time on Thursday, and feels experience rather than having struck form in recent weeks – as the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Padraig Harrington and a few other leading Europe-based players have done – could prove crucial over the four days.
Grace took last week off after playing five straight weeks from the Presidents Cup, saying the time away from the tour has rejuvenated his game.
“It was nice to relax a bit at Fancourt after a long stretch, and I’m probably feeling a lot more refreshed than some of the other guys here this week, who are coming off two big weeks,” said Grace.
“This place is not the easiest to play if you’ve not been here before, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re South African or European.
“It’s a grind going around here in the heat, and having experience of the course is 100 percent more important than form.
“Only a few, like Alex (Noren, the winner last year), have come here and won at the first time of asking.
“You’ve got to get used to the grass, get used to how far the ball actually flies, the fact the wind swirls around in places. I think having a fresh mind this week, rather than playing recently might be good for me.”
Grace goes into the tournament after a rather unspectacular 2017 season when compared to 2015 and 2016, but he feels he has played more steadily, on more tours.
“I’ve missed only three cuts all year, on several tours, so I think I’ve been steadier than before.
“I haven’t finished tournaments well, maybe pushed too hard, but I feel I’m playing nicely now, progressing nicely.”
At the WGC HSBC Champions tournament in China two weeks ago he finished tied 15th, with other good showings on the European Tour coming earlier in the season at the Open Championship (tied 6th), the Scottish Open (tied 15th), the BMW PGA Championship (tied 9th) and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship in January (tied 13th).
Grace said he was fairly comfortable on the Pilanesberg course, adding he doubted a first-timer would come up trumps on Sunday afternoon.
“This golf course, the way it is playing, you’re going to have to do something of everything right if you’re going to win it,” he said.
“To be quite honest, it’s tighter than in previous years, even though the rough is not as thick.
“Also, the fairways are playing soft, so the ball isn’t rolling as much as in the past. The greens are just so good though, definitely the best I’ve experienced, and this is my fifth time here.”
Grace and his fellow South Africans in the field, namely Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, George Coetzee, Richard Sterne, Brandon Stone, Haydn Porteous, Dean Burmester and Dylan Frittelli, will be looking to end a 10-year title-winning drought; the last local to win “Africa’s Major” being Trevor Immelman in 2007.
“What are we... nine in the field, so we’ve got a good chance to end that drought. But there are also many first-timers in that list.
“We all want to be here though; it’s the tournament we all grew up watching and wanting to play. We also want to win it, so I think there will be a big push from the South African boys this week.”
The tournament tees off on Thursday morning, with Grace out at 9.55am alongside Thorbjorn Olesen and Jordan Smith in what should be one of the more popular groupings.