JOHANNESBURG – With a glittering golfing CV including the Masters in 2011, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel would dearly like to add the SA Open title to his trophy cabinet with the tournament starting on Thursday at Glendower Golf Club.
“For a South African, this is a big event. It’s one of the tournaments you want to win,” said Schwartzel on Tuesday.
“If you take the history and the prestige of this tournament – being the second-oldest open championship in the world – it deserves the work that Ernie [Els] has put in as host to attract this field. It’s good to see him still committed to this tournament. Getting Rory McIlroy here last year was fantastic. And we will always do our best to support this tournament.”
Schwartzel, 33, has 15 professional wins to his name including 11 on the European Tour. The SA Open, however, has eluded the marquee player. He came agonisingly close in 2015 when he blew a four-shot lead during the final round, with England’s Andy Sullivan going on to win in a playoff. That loss still clearly hurt for Schwartzel.
“Yesterday [Monday] was the first time I played this course since I lost to Andy Sullivan in 2015 on that disastrous Sunday – or disastrous few holes, anyway. There were glimpses of those memories that came back and it was nice to come back today and play in the pro-am and get over those memories. I never came back after that. That was one win I had in my hands. but with a couple of bad shots down the stretch, it got away from me. It’s definitely one of those that I want to get onto my CV.”
The top-ranked SA player in the field, Branden Grace at 30th in the world rankings would also have winning the SA Open at the top of the list of his priorities.
“To win the SA Open is definitely one of my childhood dreams. This is another of those tournaments that I grew up watching.
“If I win this, I can say I’m one of the few guys who has won the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the SA Open. So I’m here for that. I’m a bit rusty because I didn’t do that much over the holidays, but I did some good work last week and I feel the game is creeping closer. I hope I’m ready to go on Thursday morning.”
Another top South African with a second place in the SA Open - in 2012 when Swede Henrik Stenson triumphed - George Coetzee is hoping his improved preparation for the flagship event on the SA golf calendar will help produce a strong performance again this week.
“I think the problem’s always been that it’s this early in the year and we’ve just come from holiday, but I think I planned it well this year,” said Coetzee.
“I cut the holiday short and came back and practiced a bit, so I feel much more prepared than I’d been the last couple of years, so hopefully, we can play some better golf.”
As for the course, the layout at Glendower will provide a stern test for the professionals once again explained Coetzee.
“I think it’s going to be a good test; every aspect of it is in the way it should be. The greens are in an immaculate condition, the rough is quite thick in places but if you’re not too deep in the rough, you could probably get a good lie that you still attack the pin with. But, you’re going to have to try and stay out of trouble this week and hit some good shots.”
Another Major Champion in the field, Trevor Immelman who donned the Green Jacket at the Masters in 2008, said the key to scoring would be finding the fairways at the tight parkland layout.
“It’s always driving the ball. If you can drive the ball straight, you have a lot of short irons into greens, all the par-fives are reachable,” said Immelman.
“If you come in from the fairways, you know at that point you can almost start attacking some of these greens. So, if you put yourself in the fairway, you really can make a lot of birdies.”
African News Agency (ANA)