There was no panic, no impatience, just a steely determination to stick to the game plan as George Coetzee chased a birdie on the closing holes to win the Tshwane Open at Pretoria Country Club on Sunday.
Fellow South African Jacques Blaauw had earlier blazed his way to a nine-under-par 61 that featured four successive birdies from the sixth hole and two-in-a-row to finish, to post the number – 13-under-par – that Coetzee had to beat.
But Coetzee, having started playing golf at Pretoria Country Club and winning his first tournament there when he was 10, knows all the secrets of the Waterkloof parklands course and he knew patience and sticking to his game plan would eventually pay dividends.
He systematically went through the first five holes in par and then claimed his first birdie at the par-four sixth after a monster drive to just in front of the green. Writing three successive birdies on his card from the eighth hole allowed the 28-year-old to catch Blaauw on 13-under. Then it was just a matter of waiting for one more birdie; it eventually came on the penultimate hole, by which time a lesser golfer may have become impatient.
“I’ve played those first three holes a thousand times and they’re probably the trickiest on the course, and then the fourth they made a par-four this week. So that’s not where I wanted to make my charge, it’s easy to drop shots there, but I knew when I stepped on to the sixth tee that it was time,” Coetzee said.
“Jacques put me under a lot of pressure and there were other guys racing out of the blocks as well. But I had a good game plan mentally and it was just a matter of playing my game and waiting for my birdies to come. Towards the end, I was waiting for 17, which is usually a birdie chance, and the 65 I shot today was the round I’ve been looking to play, it was controlled and how I wanted the day to play out,” Coetzee said.
Coetzee had started the day tied for the lead with five other golfers – fellow South Africans Trevor Fisher Junior and Wallie Coetsee, Englishman David Horsey, Scotland’s Craig Lee and Spaniard Adrian Otaegui.
But it all turned sour for those contenders, none of them being able to break par.
Although Coetzee said before the tournament that the 6459-metre course redesigned by Gary Player in 2004 was not exactly up his street, his delight at winning his second European Tour title at his home club was obvious.
“I loved the fans, when I was growing up you dream about playing in front of galleries like that and the crowd just seemed to get bigger and bigger. There were hundreds of people following our group and I recognised a lot of them. I never thought, as a kid, that I’d be playing a European Tour event at my home club, so it’s unreal to win here,” Coetzee said.
His previous European Tour title was won in Johannesburg 13 months ago, and he has four other Sunshine Tour wins. But this was achieved in different fashion and Coetzee was especially pleased with that.
“In the Joburg Open win, I was behind on the front nine and then ahead on the back nine, so it went from being aggressive to being conservative. Today I had to mix aggression with cleverness and it was nice to make a birdie to win. Most of my previous wins have come from putting very well, but I’m very happy to have my ball-striking come through today. I’m loving my driver,” Coetzee said.
And with good reason because he hit 13 of 14 fairways off the tee in the final round and gave himself several looks at birdie on the back nine. But as the number of holes left diminished, so thoughts turned to whether Coetzee would finally make birdie or push too hard and end up dropping a shot.
Lee, playing in the final two-ball, was just one shot behind but he would drop a crucial shot on the 15th when his drive went too far right on to a bank, from where he had to lay up before the stream crossing the fairway and then missed a 10-foot putt for par.
That meant it was all up to Coetzee to overtake Blaauw.
His drive on 17 went off to the right, into some trees short of the bunkers guarding the green. But the benefits of playing on his home course once again came to the fore.
“It didn’t happen exactly how I wanted, but I know there are gaps between the bunkers there,” Coetzee said after he had played a lovely, delicate chip to within five feet of the hole to set up the birdie that won the Tshwane Open.