JOHANNESBURG – Home favourite Brandon Stone is not willing to settle for being a one-time winner of the South African Open, but knows he will face stiff competition when he heads to Randpark Golf Club for the first European Tour event of the new decade.
The 26-year-old tasted victory at this event in 2016 at Glendower Golf Club, seeing off the challenge of countryman Christiaan Bezuidenhout to claim the first of his three European Tour titles to date.
If Stone is to get his hands on the trophy again this week, he will have to beat a star-studded field containing some of South Africa's very best players, such as Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Erik van Rooyen.
While he knows that is not going to be easy, Stone is determined to ensure his 2016 victory at this tournament is not his last.
He said: “You’re never tired of hearing (former) SA Open champion and it comes with a nice parking spot, which is a bonus for the rest of the week.
“It's nice to come back as a previous winner. There’s a very strong contingent of South African players here this week who will be vying for that title but I’m happy to be back here.
“Since 2016 the SA Open has been very special to me and prior to that too. The SA Open will always be a fifth Major for any South African and we all want to win it. I’ve obviously done it but I don’t want that to be the only time.
“Also, I know that there are many South African players who are not really keen to see that trophy leave our shores, so I’m very confident in the boys’ abilities, and my own ability.
“You’ve got Louis (Oosthuizen), (Branden) Grace and Charl (Schwartzel), so there’s a strong contingent of players here.
“The game feels great. I didn’t really take December off - I kind of stayed in Centurion and played a lot of courses around Gauteng, caught up with a few mates – none of whom are professional golfers; they’re pharmacists and accountants etc.”
Bezuidenhout has come a long way since finishing second behind Stone four years ago, claiming his breakthrough European Tour win at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters in 2019.
And he has his sights set on winning this event as he bids to kick off 2020 in the best way possible following a break over the festive period.
Bezuidenhout, who begins his first round at 8.35AM on the Bushwillow Course on Thursday, said: “I finished second in 2016 and I'm looking forward to seeing if I can’t go one better this year.
“I’ve only just got back into golf now and I’ve kind of gone back to the basics and stuff. I know this course and hopefully I can start the year in a good fashion.
“Last year was great and it changed a few things for me. I always set my goals out for the year and to follow up a year like the one I had is always going to be tough but it’s definitely doable.
“I’m just going to stick to all the things that I’ve been doing in the last couple of years because it’s paid off. Hopefully I will have a year like last year.
“The SA Open has always been a special tournament for all South African players and every player here wants to win it.
“I’ve always wanted to win the South African Open and it won’t change. If I don’t do it this year I am going to play again next year, same goals.”
Dean Burmester is confident the home players have got what it takes to ensure the trophy, which was last won by Louis Oosthuizen, stays in the possession of a South African.
Burmester, who will take on the Firethorn Course on Thursday, said: “A lot of guys have been posting on social media that ‘we want the trophy to stay home’ and with the contingent we have this year here, it’s possible.
“I saw a stat the other day that says inside the top 1000 in the world, after the United States, we are the second most successful country in the world in terms of golf, so it’s going to be tough for the guys to come out here and take our trophy and we will do everything we can to keep it here.”