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Ken Borland



Woods chasing records while Grace & Coetzee make debuts 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

While the revitalised Tiger Woods is favoured to close to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles when the Masters gets underway this evening, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will make their debuts at Augusta, lifting South Africa’s representation in one of golf’s most hallowed events to an all-time high of eight.

The pair will join compatriots Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman in an event that has seen five South African triumphs – Gary Player in 1961, 74 and 78; Immelman in 2008 and Schwartzel in 2011.

The last player to win on his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and, although Oosthuizen was edged into second by Bubba Watson in a playoff last year and Els is the reigning British Open champion, the spotlight has been elsewhere.

Woods, who has risen like the phoenix back to number one in the world, is the clear favourite, bringing both great form – three wins in his last five starts – and tremendous pedigree, having four previous Masters titles, to the tournament.

Even Nicklaus backs Woods to kick-start his quest for 19 major titles again.

“If Tiger doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, then I don’t know. I’ve said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that. From this point, he’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he’s going to do it, he’s in contention every year,” Nicklaus said.

The other contenders are Rory McIlroy, who returned to form with a second-place finish in last weekend’s Texas Open, three-time champion Phil Mickelson and, if you believe the British press, perennial favourite Ian Poulter, even though the Ryder Cup star is battling allergies as practically everything is blooming at Augusta at the moment.

This year’s Masters will also see the emergence of a stunning new talent who could not only be the successor to Woods but also the precursor to the Chinese dominance of the game many have predicted.

The 14-year-old Guan Tianlang will smash Matteo Mannesero’s record of being the youngest golfer to play in the Masters by two years and the youngster has impressed all and sundry in the build-up to the Major.

The son of a keen seven-handicap golfer, who knew his boy was something special when he beat him aged seven, Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in November.

Woods and two-time champion Tom Watson were among the legends he played practice rounds with, and both came away with the impression they were in the presence of future greatness.

“I enjoyed playing with Guan, he has good tempo, his rhythm is very good. Once he grows a little bit, he will be able to get the club faster. He will use a different swing plane when he gets taller and stronger,” Watson said.

“He’s so consistent,” said Woods. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.”

The importance of course knowledge is magnified at Augusta, where the slopes on the fairways and greens are far steeper than the television coverage portrays. It really is the thinking man’s golf course.

“There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking,” was the famous quote of Bobby Jones, the Masters co-founder and winner of seven Majors as an amateur.

The veteran Els gave the rookie Grace some words of advice before the tournament and he used the Jones quote.

“Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your [Grace’s] career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. There are certain ‘crunch shots’ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from one to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if that’s 25-feet right of the pin.

“You’ll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and you’ve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner.

“The short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well. Other than that, it’s really pretty straightforward!”

In Grace’s case, his short game, especially his lob-wedge, is impressive, but what is also relevant is that he is comfortable playing a high draw, which Augusta favours.

Apart from the advice from Els, Grace has also played a practice round with no less of an authority on Augusta than Player.

“I’m hitting the ball like I did in January again and I’m ready. Excitement will take care of the rest. It’s an experience I’ve never had before, Augusta and the Green Jacket is the most special of them all because of the history and South Africans having done well in the Masters in the past.

“I’ve been given some great insights in the practice rounds and everyone has just tried to help George and I as much as possible. Obviously I was disappointed to miss the cut in my last Major, but there was a little bit of extra pressure then because I had come in from nowhere really.

“Now I’m not worried that I have to go out and play well, I’m not worried about what people think because I’m number 32 in the world and I can just go out and enjoy myself. I’m in a good place,” Grace said.

Whatever the result, many would say he is in the best place of all for a golfer: beautiful Augusta in the springtime.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-11-masters-preview-tiger-tiger-burning-bright/#.WZLvBlUjHIU

‘Faf able to make the tough calls’ – Rhodes 0

Posted on July 28, 2017 by Ken

 

Jonty Rhodes says his reluctance to make tough calls and decisions cancels out any desire to be a head coach, but he adds these exact qualities are what makes Faf du Plessis a great captain.

Rhodes captained Natal for a brief period during his playing days, but always served as a trusty lieutenant to Hansie Cronje and Shaun Pollock in the national team. Although he travels the world as a consultant coach, with fielding his area of expertise, these days, he says he has no desire to become a head coach.

“As captain I used to take things too personally. You have to make the tough calls and decisions and that’s just not my personality, I prefer being more of a motivator. And that’s also why I don’t qualify as head coach material.

“But Faf is a hard guy, he’s very strong mentally and you see it in his batting, anywhere from number three to number five. He brings that tenacity, he’s an unruffled batsman, he’s not flamboyant, he works flippen hard and plays to his strengths. He can block forever and maybe the comeback by the Proteas in the second Test, the way they just built and built the pressure on England, we didn’t give them an inch, we really grinded them, was a reflection of his character,” Rhodes told The Citizen on Wednesday at the CSA Centre of Excellence, where he was putting the national academy through their paces.

Rhodes added that with Jacques Kallis out of the picture, the Proteas had to make the tough decision to change the balance of the team by bringing in the extra frontline bowler in Chris Morris.

“For a long time we had Jacques, who was a frontline batsman at three and a frontline bowler, and not many teams have that. We maybe didn’t appreciate how blessed we were because he was like having an extra player.

“So the Proteas had to make that call. It depends on what’s best for the situation and conditions, I suppose if there’s a bit of juice in the pitch and you can afford to have one bowler less, then you can play the extra batsman. And the time to move Quinton de Kock up the order was also now, while he’s still young and strong enough to do that and keep wicket.

“He can bat with the tail as well, because he hits a high percentage of boundaries, but he can fulfil both roles. He’s totally different to the other grafters in the top-order, before you know it he has 30 and it doesn’t look like he’s taken any risks. Sometimes you just have to bat and other times you need someone to take the game away,” Rhodes said.

De Bruyn unfazed by chilling start to his Test career 0

Posted on June 12, 2017 by Ken

 

Hamilton is by no means as far down south as you can get in New Zealand, but it is still a rather cold, desolate place to make your Test debut, especially when you’re batting out of position and have to come out and open on the first morning in the typically damp, swing-friendly conditions found in that country.

There are many who believe Theunis de Bruyn was not given the best chance to succeed in his first Test back in March, scoring a three-ball duck in the first innings and then being run out for 12 in the second after a horrible mix-up with Hashim Amla, but the elegant right-hander says he was unfazed by it all and grateful that the chance came at all.

“The message I was sent was that the selectors wanted me to play, although obviously it was out of position. But I started my franchise career as an opener and as a number three batsman you face the new ball sometimes anyway. Obviously I was disappointed with how it went, but when I get to England, which is a big series, at least I have already played Test cricket.

“So I think it was worth it. Any debut is difficult with all the emotions of your dream coming true, singing the anthems, and then immediately going in on a green pitch. So it will only get easier in terms of emotion, if I play again hopefully I can just focus on watching the ball and making runs,” De Bruyn said.

“I’ll bat anywhere for the Proteas and I truly believe I can be a good opener. People chat about me being a middle-order batsman, but in my opinion, three or four is part of the top-order and you have to adapt your game to batting at 150 for one or 30 for three. It’s about switching your mind on.

‘So I’m not fazed about my debut, you never really start where you want to in Test cricket, you have to earn that right. So I’ll play where they need me,” the successful Knights captain added.

The whole brouhaha over the 24-year-old De Bruyn’s first Test threatens to obscure the positive news that he enjoyed a tremendous season, averaging 57.76 as he led the Knights to the Sunfoil Series title.

“All this focus on my debut suggests I had an horrendous season and I know with the media here that you’re a hero one day and zero the next, it’s part of professional sport. But I left my family behind in Pretoria to play for a new franchise, I won a trophy and made runs, and in two out of three formats I made my debut for South Africa, so it was a wonderful season. And it was just my third as a professional, I’m still young,” De Bruyn, who likes nothing better than to get out into the bush, pointed out.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170603/282286730229932

A passionate, top-class SA coach without a job 0

Posted on May 24, 2017 by Ken

 

Despite a poor final year in charge of the Springboks, there is little doubt Heyneke Meyer remains a top-class coach and it is a symptom of a sick South African rugby system that the 49-year-old is without a full-time coaching job despite making it clear that he still wants to make a difference to the game in this country.

Meyer was back at Loftus Versfeld a couple of days ago to launch the Beachcomber World Club 10s, a unique tournament for professional teams in a social environment, that will be held in Mauritius next month, but there is no doubt he still harbours a burning desire to be involved in the cauldron of top quality rugby again judging by the passion with which he answered a range of questions on South African rugby.

Although a great admirer of New Zealand rugby and a personal friend of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, Meyer makes a good point when he says a drive to play like the Kiwis do is a case of chasing the wind for South African rugby.

He reckons it will take us 10 years to catch up to their style of play, by which time their game will have evolved and they will still be 10 years ahead of South Africa. It is perhaps a symptom of our insecurity as a nation that we are always trying to copy other teams – in the early 2000s it was Australian rugby that was the flavour of the month.

Meyer, who has been working with plenty of New Zealanders and Fijians in his part-time role as coach of the Asia Pacific Dragons team, points to a higher innate skills level as one of the main reasons South Africans will find it very difficult to emulate the free-flowing, expansive style of the Kiwis.

“South Africans don’t have the same natural understanding of space that they do, but I truly believe any of our teams can still beat a New Zealand team, especially at home. But if we try and follow them then we’ll never be the best in the world. We have to rediscover what we stand for and play South African rugby – brilliant set-pieces, driving, strong defence. We must do what we’re good at and kick intelligently, not just kick the ball away,” Meyer said.

The national coach from 2012 to 2015 made the point that ex-Springbok coaches are practically driven out of the country and pointed to Eddie Jones travelling from Australia to South Africa and now to England as an example of the value of experience, even if it comes from losing a few games.

“Eddie lost eight games in a row with Australia and was fired, he then helped the Springboks and learnt a lot there. In fact England are now playing like the Boks used to – they have great set-pieces, a great defence and kicking game, they still score tries and they’re on a winning run. It would be 50/50 right now between them and the All Blacks.”

Many observers have pointed to the speed at which New Zealand teams play the game and Meyer said this difference was most marked towards the end of matches, due to the superior fitness of the Kiwis.

“The All Blacks have always been superior in terms of fitness. We have big, strong guys, but it’s harder to get them fit. New Zealand have smaller but more mobile players and they run you ragged in the last 10-15 minutes. Central contracting means Steve Hansen knows the fitness of all his players and whether they need to rest or work harder.

“But you can’t do major fitness work if your players are tired or injured and our guys going overseas makes it very difficult, I’m very concerned about all the guys in Japan because you can’t play for 12 months. Before the last World Cup, I did not see the players for eight months so I asked for fitness reports from the franchises and nobody sent them in.

“So when I got the players I knew we were in trouble and the guys were not fit for the first game against Japan. But the All Blacks get to rest for three months after SuperRugby, so they’re super-fit for the next year, but we’re playing Currie Cup or in Japan. It’s very difficult for the South African coaches,” Meyer said.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-citizen-gauteng/20170513/282578787965088

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