Keith Horne was 16-under-par after four rounds in the 60s and shooting 66 and 65 over the weekend in last year’s Africa Open, but that was only good enough for a tie for ninth, and the well-travelled South African believes he can improve on that when the 2015 edition of the co-sanctioned European/Sunshine Tour event gets underway at East London Golf Club on Thursday.
Horne has been a consistent performer in the Africa Open, finishing in ties for 18th, 18th, 21st, 62nd, 32nd and ninth since the tournament moved to East London in 2009, but he is still heartsore over the 75s he shot in the final rounds of 2012 and 2013.
“I’ve played pretty well here before, I’ve been in contention but then I tend to have a bad round somewhere. I was in the top-10 last year, but I feel I haven’t reached my potential yet here because I feel very comfortable on the course,” Horne said at East London Golf Club on Wednesday.
Horne’s Africa Open performance was his best on the European Tour last year, and the 43-year-old admitted he was a bit jaded.
“After five years of playing in Europe and 13 years of travelling as a pro, I felt a bit flat so I didn’t play a full schedule last year. I took a large percentage of the year off and now I feel refreshed and ready, I’m a lot more relaxed,” Horne said.
The seven-time Sunshine Tour winner was born in Durban and grew up on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, so playing in the wind in East London holds no fears for him.
“I’m not as good in the wind as I used to be because I’ve lived in Joburg for the last 13 years, but I grew up on the coast and I have the technique and mind-set to play in the wind. It’s mostly about mental preparation, you can’t fight the wind, you’ve got to use it and accept it,” Horne said.
He has averaged 30.22 putts per round in 2015, putting him 140th in the European Tour rankings, but he is really looking forward to the greens in the Eastern Cape.
“I’m also used to the greens on the coast and the greens here are as good as any coastal greens I’ve seen. They’re the best they’ve been here for the last five or six years, so kudos to the green keeping staff, they’re in magnificent condition. They’re not as slow as they’ve been in the past, they’re rolling beautifully and I think a lot of putts are going to be made,” Horne said.
The father of two daughters will also be campaigning in Asia this year, having finished in 11th place in the Tour Qualifying School in Thailand in January.
“I’m going back, I had good seasons in Asia in 2009 and 2010 and I enjoy it there, more than Europe in fact. But the money’s in Europe … ,” Horne admitted.
The money’s also good in East London, with a prize pool of R14.5 million and a first prize of just over R2 million.
But the East London Golf Club course needs to be overcome first and, especially when the wind blows, it is a short course with many hidden dangers.
“East London seems to bring out the best in our golfers but you can go out and think you’re going to shoot very low, flopping wedges into all the greens, but the course has got teeth. There are birdies out there, but you have to keep double-bogeys off the card. If you take the course for granted, it can really bite you,” Horne said with the benefit of years of experience.