Anything offline and away from the fairway will be punished, with chipping out of the rough often the only option.
Ernie Els, recently announced as the tournament’s ambassador and searching for his sixth SA Open title, is pleased that the Glendower set-up is tough.
“If you stray just off the fairway, you can really get a very tough lie. I hit one at 18 yesterday where I was a metre off the fairway and I could only advance it maybe 100 yards. But it’s what Opens are all about it, isn’t it? I think for a tournament of this stature it needs to be tough.
“Kikuyu is obviously a very thickly-laid grass and they’ve obviously let it go when there’s been a lot of rain, so it’s as thick and as tough as I’ve ever seen rough. But we want to find the best player this week and that’s what we’re going to get. You’re not going to get a guy who’s hitting it offline and getting lucky lies in the rough winning. You’re going to have to play proper golf and that’s what I think a national Open should be like,” Els said on Wednesday.
Charl Schwartzel thought the rough should have been even longer, while Branden Grace hoped it would be cut a bit, and George Coetzee described the course as “a real challenge”.
“If you miss a fairway, there is an 80% chance that you’ll have to chip out and I hit an eight-iron about 15 yards on one hole,” the Joburg Open champion said.
The greens, however, are soft and receptive, so conditions will favour the most accurate golfer rather than the most powerful.
“If there’s no rough then it’s usually a big hitter that wins, but this week is about hitting fairways and greens, which changes things a bit,” Danie van Tonder, the leader of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, said. “I won’t be stupid and hit driver everywhere. I’ll take three-wood or four-iron and lay-up before going for the green. To the pins I’ll be aggressive, but not on the tee shots.”
That doesn’t suit a guy like Coetzee, who likes to bomb it off the tee, but the 28-year-old said he will apply himself and look to adapt.
“I prefer tricky greens to tricky rough, but you’ve got to make your game suit the course. Hopefully I’ll hit it straight and make a few putts. You’ve got to hit a lot of fairways, because I don’t think the best putter will win it this week,” Coetzee said.
What is certain is that the leading South Africans – Schwartzel, Els, Coetzee, Grace, Richard Sterne and Hennie Otto – are all extremely hungry to claim their national Open and return the imposing trophy to home soil for the first time since Otto’s triumph in 2011.
Victory would be especially sweet for Ekurhuleni products like Els, Otto, Van Tonder and J’be Kruger.
“It’s wonderful to be back at the SA Open, especially here at Glendower in Ekurhuleni, the city where I’m from,” Els said. “I’ve played a lot of golf at Glendower, I grew up 12km from here and we’ve got a great venue this week. I feel very motivated to win as many as I can before I’m done,” the 45-year-old said.