JOHANNESBURG – Back in the day that little man in black, Gary Player, won the South African Open an astonishing 13 times, Bobby Locke won it nine times in his plus-fours and Sid Brews was the champion on eight occasions.
More recently, Ernie Els has picked up five titles.
So, Louis Oosthuizen figured at Randpark on Wednesday – it’s high time that he jumps on the bandwagon and becomes a multiple winner following his six-stroke victory here last summer, especially now that he is the new player host of the R17.5-million tournament hosted by the City of Joburg.
“It was so special winning the SA Open for the first time last year as it was something I’d always dreamt about which was why I got so emotional at the time (he broke down in tears). Then to later get a call from Ernie (the previous tournament host) and Selwyn Nathan asking me to become the new tournament host was also special. Now, to defend my title and win this tournament for the second time would be, well, extra special,” said the 37-year-old beside the putting green at Randpark before setting off for a practice round ahead of Thursday’s first round.
The 2010 British Open champion admits he is a little rusty.
“After the Presidents Cup and a busy 2019 I only got back home to Albertina (the little Southern Cape Town which is his South African base) on December 18 and needed a rest. So I’ve only played a couple of social rounds since then and right now I’m not sure what my swing is going to do. Besides, I’m going to have to beat a very strong field this week including my good buddy Charl Schwartzel.”
Oosthuizen and Schwartzel, who won the 2011 Masters, first met each other as nippers way back in 1996 in the SA Boys Championship right here at Randpark when Louis was 14 and Charl 12 and they have been inseparable ever since.
“We live pretty much next to each other in Florida in the States and braai together and our families do a lot of stuff together. It’s good to see Charl playing well again after his wrist problems last year. And while we’re close friends, we’re big rivals on the golf course. I don’t mind him playing great as long as I can beat him by one shot at the end of the day!” he says with a chuckle.
Although there is a fairly impressive international line-up here this week, many see the trophy staying on home soil once the last putt is holed on Sunday afternoon. The South African contingent is extremely strong, headed by Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Branden Grace, the trio of Justin Harding, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Erik van Rooyen who all won on the European Tour last year, Shaun Norris (who has earned truckloads of yen on the Japan Golf Tour), Zander Lombard, Brandon Stone, Richard Sterne, George Coetzee and big-hitting Dean Burmester.
Asked about the state of South African golf, especially the younger generation, Oosthuizen feels it is extremely healthy.
“I mean, we had four South Africans in the Junior Presidents Cup team.” (And three of those were from Louis’ own foundation). Oosthuizen remembers his days growing up on the family farm in Albertina.
“We had our little nine-hole course with sand greens and it was only 400 yards from the school and I’d be on that golf course all the time after lessons. That’s where it all started and I think that’s what the youngsters need – a place to play a lot, which is not so easy these days living in the cities and where golf is so expensive.”
Because both the Firethorn and the Bushwillow courses are being used for the tournament the field size is 240 instead of the usual 156. The cut is 65 professionals and ties. There are 11 amateurs taking part.
Selected tee-off times in Thursday's first round
Ist tee (SA unless stated)
11.45 George Coetzee, Gavin Green (Malaysia), Zander Lombard
11.55 Branden Grace, Andy Sullivan (Eng), Erik van Rooyen
12.10 Charl Schwartzel, Thomas Detry (Belg), Eddie Pepperell (Eng)
8.15 Brandon Stone, Danie van Tonder, Rasmus Hojgaard (Den)
8.25 Richard Sterne, Justin Harding, Chris Paisley (Eng)
8.35 Louis Oosthuizen, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Jayden Schaper (amateur)