A strong north-easterly wind was buffeting East London Golf Club yesterday on the eve of the Africa Open, with today’s first round of the European/Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event likely to separate those golfers with the right attitude from those who approach the blustery conditions in negative fashion.
The wind is forecast to switch to a 35km/h south-westerly today, making much of the work done in the practice rounds irrelevant because the direction of the wind plays such a big part in how this short, old-style course plays.
But Keith Horne, one of South Africa’s best players in the wind having grown up on the coast, says the right attitude will be crucial at East London Golf Club.
“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 mindset to play in the wind. It’s mostly about mental preparation, if you come in with the wrong attitude and try and fight the wind, then you’re not going to do well. You’ve got to use it and accept it,” Horne said yesterday.
The 43-year-old Horne is a consistent performer in the Africa Open, but one poor round has normally let him down.
But he remains one of the strong local hopes in a tournament that has never been won by a foreigner: since 2008 the champions have been Shaun Norris, Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen (twice), Darren Fichardt and Thomas Aiken.
Norris and Fichardt are the only former winners in this week’s field, however, and it’s been an age since South African golfers found themselves so dominated at co-sanctioned events. Just two of the last six European Tour tournaments in this country have been won by locals, with Branden Grace’s cruise to victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek adding to Aiken’s win in last year’s Africa Open.
And it is English golfers who have been leading the charge: Andy Sullivan is one of the favourites in East London after claiming back-to-back titles at the SA and Joburg Opens, Ross Fisher won the Tshwane Open and Danny Willett triumphed in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City.
Oliver Fisher is back at the Africa Open after losing to Aiken in a playoff last year, while David Howell and Simon Dyson bring considerable pedigree to the tournament as well.
Howell spoke about hanging on to Sullivan’s coat-tails and the 28-year-old is certainly the man of the moment.
“It’s been like a fairytale winning two so quickly, but I still have a lot to prove. I’m in a pretty good place, 58th in the world and the top 50 is obviously a nice carrot with qualification for the Masters,” Sullivan said yesterday.
Perhaps the best bet to maintain South Africa’s dominance at the Africa Open is Jaco van Zyl, who has previously chosen the tournament as his favourite summer event.
“I fell in love with this course because it offers a lot of risk and reward and a lot of options, but it punishes any wayward shots. When the wind is up, it tests every shot in the game and strategy is key,” Van Zyl said.