Local hero George Coetzee says he does not know which game is going to pitch up – the good one or the bad one – when he tees it up at Pretoria Country Club, his home course, in the first round of the Tshwane Open on Thursday.
The Tshwane Open, which has a purse of R18.5 million, is the last co-sanctioned event of the season in South Africa and Coetzee would obviously like to improve on his previous performances this summer – he missed the cut in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the SA Open and the Africa Open, while only finishing T16th in the restricted-field Nedbank Golf Challenge and T24th at the Joburg Open.
But the world number 87 was not overly confident after practising at Pretoria Country Club on Wednesday.
“It’s great to have a tournament in Tshwane and unbelievable for me that it’s at my home course, where I imagined I was playing in the British Open growing up. I hope knowing this course as well as I do is in my favour, but at the moment I don’t know whether I’m going to play well or badly. I find out on Thursday morning on the first tee … ” Coetzee said.
The 28-year-old, who claimed a breakthrough maiden European Tour title in last year’s Joburg Open, has undergone some well-publicised changes to his game that have looked ill-advised given that he hasn’t come close to winning a strokeplay title since then. But Coetzee said on Wednesday that the changes are starting to work as they become imbedded in his game.
“There are a few things I’ve been working on, and every round I play, there’s a bit more of that coming through,” he said.
South Africa’s other main hope for the R2.9 million first prize is Trevor Fisher Junior, but it’s been a bit of a zoo for the first-time European Tour winner after his triumph in last weekend’s Africa Open at East London Golf Club.
“I’m still on a high, but it’s been tough with all the calls and messages and with all the excitement I’ve hardly slept. But last week is now in the past and I just want to get out on to the first tee and play. I don’t want to get comfortable, I want to try and win again as soon as possible,” Fisher Junior said. “If it will take a week or 10 months, I don’t know. There are such small margins in golf.”
Englishman Ross Fisher is the defending champion after winning the 2014 Tshwane Open at Copperleaf by three strokes, and he said the key to playing well at Pretoria Country Club was strategy off the tee.
“It’s a very different course to Copperleaf, a lot shorter and more fiddly, there’s a lot of positional play off the tees so you’re hitting a lot of irons and not many drivers. Being strategic is going to play a critical role,” Fisher said.
Fisher has the build and good looks of a model and “driving for show” is probably the strong point of his game. The world number 66 realises that he’s going to have to play a much more tactical game at this parklands course.
“I prefer quite long and tight courses because driver is my strength, but I’ve come up with my own game plan,” he said.
Fisher can also take confidence from his excellent recent form and, having finished strongly with rounds of 71-69-72 for tied-23rd in last weekend’s WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral’s tough Blue Monster, he can expect the going to be a bit easier at Pretoria Country Club.
“It’s been a very good start to the season. Finishing second at Sun City was a great start, I had a decent three weeks in the desert and I’m really pleased I came back well at Doral.
“This course should be easier because the winds were pretty strong and there was a lot of water at Doral, but there’s still trouble out there,” said the third-placed golfer on the Race to Dubai.
Matteo Manassero, the youngest winner on the European Tour, is another overseas talent to watch because he clearly likes the course.
“It’s a good course, a fun course, that’s opened out for an old type of course. You can shoot really low or make a mess of it, so it’s a really well-designed golf course. It’s enjoyable and my type of course,” Manassero said.
Conversely, Coetzee may be at home, but he does not feel entirely comfortable.
“I didn’t build my game at this golf course. I putted well to shoot good scores here, but it’s a drawers’ golf course. There is a lot of risk and reward and on a lot of holes you can take it on. There are some advantages to knowing the course as well as I do, but it suits a certain type of golfer. Hopefully I make enough putts to make up for that,” Coetzee admitted.
Other locals to watch are Jean Hugo, who finished in the top-20 in last week’s Africa Open and celebrated a win at Pretoria Country Club in the last Sunshine Tour event played here – a 2011 Vodacom Origins of Golf event; Jaco van Zyl, who was strongly in contention at East London Golf Club, and Keith Horne, who has the experience to know when to attack and when to box clever.
Englishman Andy Sullivan, the winner of back-to-back titles in the SA and Joburg Opens, is sitting at the top of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and is ninth in the Race to Dubai, and has proven himself to be lethal at altitude, while the other strong overseas contenders are Morten Orum Madsen, the 2014 SA Open winner down the road at Glendower, Gregory Bourdy, the four-time European Tour winner from France, and Korea’s Byeong-Hun An, the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship.