I haven't seen fairways as good as this in years - Brandon Stone
JOHANNESBURG – Brandon Stone, here at Randpark for the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg, has paid the greenkeeping staff the highest possible compliment by saying the fairways are the best he's seen anywhere in the last few years.
“They're so perfect that you even feel guilty about taking a divot,” the 26-year-old said with a chuckle in a pre-tournament interview.
“And the greens are exceptional too. If you can stay on the fairways and hit the greens you can do well this week. That's the key, but it’s not that easy to do. Both courses deserve respect. You have to drive the ball well off the tee. Firethorn has some really tough par-fours and if you're off target the course will bite you. Bushwillow is shorter but it's tight and, again, you have to keep it in play.”
In 2016 Stone won the South African Open at Glendower in January of that year and the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in December. And in 2018 he won the Scottish Open, famously shooting 60 en route to victory as he fast gained a reputation as one of the best young players on tour.
Last year in Europe wasn't his best by his own high standards but he’s been practising hard over the Christmas period and is now feeling really good about his game.
“I'm hitting the ball really well off the tee – driving is definitely one of my strong points – and I feel settled where the swing is. Louis (Oosthuizen), of course, won the SA Open here last year, and I believe the trophy is going to stay on home soil this time around as there's a very strong South African contingent here this week. Besides Louis, we've got Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and a whole bunch of guys.”
This “bunch” includes 2019 European Tour winners Justin Harding, Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout as well as Shaun Norris who finished second on the 2019 Japan Golf Tour and won for the fourth year running over there.
Then there's Stone himself, happy about his game and always ready for a bit of a laugh.
“I'm feeling confident and one of the perks of being a former SA Open winner is that you get such a nice parking spot!”
Norris lost his father Patrick to cancer in July last year which he said was a devastating blow for both him and the rest of the family.
“He'd been getting progressively ill for about six months and it took a toll on my golf. Then, after he passed away, I again had this huge weight on my shoulders, dragging me down. So I asked my brother Kyle to caddie for me. I needed someone close who I could confide in.
Then things started to improve and I played some really good golf over in Japan with him on the bag for 10 or 11 weeks. I was playing for my Dad, and I'll be playing for him again this week.”
Norris, 37, is just outside the top-50 in the world rankings so one of his goals is top 50 and the Masters in April as a result.
Selected tee-off times in Thursday's first round Firethorn course
Ist tee (SA unless stated)
11.45am George Coetzee, Gavin Green (Malaysia), Zander Lombard
11.55am Branden Grace, Andy Sullivan (Eng), Erik van Rooyen
12.10pm Charl Schwartzel, Thomas Detry (Belg), Eddie Pepperell (Eng)
8.15am Brandon Stone, Danie van Tonder, Rasmus Hojgaard (Den)
8.25am Richard Sterne, Justin Harding, Chris Paisley (Eng)
8.35am Louis Oosthuizen, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Jayden Schaper.
African News Agency (ANA)