JOHANNESBURG – Eleven months ago little-known Chris Paisley added his name to the illustrious list of South African Open winners when he edged out Branden Grace for the title at Glendower. He’s back to defend this week but he’ll be without his “lucky charm” - his wife Keri, who carried his bag last time out at the tournament.
Also, the tournament has moved from Glendower to Randpark, where it tees off today with 240 players looking to win one of the most prestigious titles in South African golf.
Paisley only got a look at the two courses at Randpark - Bushwillow and Firethorn - this week so he’ll pretty much be going in blind today and tomorrow when the players have to play a round each on the two courses, and he also admitted it was a pity Keri wasn’t on his bag this week.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen the courses but we’ve worked out our strategy,” said a relaxed Paisley yesterday. “And it’s a bit of a shame Keri isn’t here this week, but we’ve got a little baby girl at home who’s only six weeks old, so it was way too soon for Keri to travel.
“If the tournament was in January, like earlier this year, I think we would have made a plan. But it’s great for me that I have Sean Russell back on the bag; we’ve got a great relationship and have been together for four years now.”
Paisley said his game was in pretty decent shape and he was confident of a good showing.
“I’m feeling good, and being back here has brought back a lot of good memories. It was a special week in January, to get the first win and play the way I did. It was really a turning point in my career, going up against Grace on the final day with the crowds rooting for him and me not giving him a sniff.
“That gave me a lot of confidence and I now know what level I can play at.”
Paisley is here after some quality golf at the back end of the recently completed Race to Dubai. In Turkey he finished 33rd, at the Nedbank Golf Challenge he was ninth, and at the 2018 season-ending DP World Tour Championship he was 34th.
“The game is good and solid. I’m driving it nicely and that’s key for me. Also, there’s a bit of a buzz, seeing my name on that trophy alongside guys like Ernie (Els) and Gary Player, and seeing the highlights of my win in January on social media. I’m looking forward to the week.”
Another Englishman backing his chances is Matt Wallace, who’s playing his 34th tournament this year, having travelled across the globe, but he said he was still energised to give it a good go.
“I’ve had two weeks off so was a bit sceptical about my game, but I played nicely in the warm-ups and feel full of energy still,” said the three-time winner in Europe this year.
“I love playing and these courses here are brilliant, and yes, I feel like I can win every time I tee it up now. But I also know I mustn’t raise expectations too much; I know I must just go out there and play.”@jacq_west