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Ken Borland



Sun City ends era with increased crowds & enthusiastic sponsors 0

Posted on December 09, 2015 by Ken

 

Increased crowd figures and an enthusiastic response from the sponsors marked the end of an era at Sun City as the final 30-man Nedbank Golf Challenge was completed at the weekend.

Next year the tournament will shift away from the first weekend in December for the first time since its inception in 1981, moving to mid-November as it becomes the penultimate event in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai Finals Series and will be played with a 72-man field and an increase in prizemoney to reflect its more elite status.

But the traditional Nedbank Golf Challenge went out with a bang at Sun City over the weekend, Australian Marc Leishman’s comfortable victory being watched by hordes of people.

According to tournament director Alastair Roper, crowds steadily improved through the week. Thursday’s opening day was watched by a few hundred people less than usual, but then there was a 1.5% increase on Friday and the improvement over the weekend was apparent as 12.8% more people came through the gates on Saturday compared to last year, and 4.7% more on Sunday.

“Overall the crowd figures were better and I think that was largely related to the field, people felt it was very good and provided a diversity of golfers,” Roper told The Citizen on Monday.

“What also bodes well for the event as it heads into a new format is that there was even more enthusiasm from the sponsors, with a number of them saying they are going to have to double the size of their facilities for next year.”

The Nedbank Golf Challenge has always been a marker for the beginning of the Christmas holidays and an end-of-year bash for corporate South Africa, but that might change with the tournament starting on November 10.

“It is one of my fears that the crowds might not come, but we will only find out the impact on that once we experience the new date. Universities and schools will also be in the middle of exams. Already the European Tour are talking to the guys in Dubai to maybe have the Tour Championship a bit later, possibly moving into our old spot in the first week of December. There are problems with Thanksgiving, when a lot of Americans in the United Arab Emirates won’t be around to watch golf, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but the dates will hopefully be massaged a bit,” Roper said.

“A lot of things will have to change because of the impact of having 72 players, there will have to be bigger facilities for them. Even the media centre needs to be looked at because there will be greater demands with it being the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai. I think we may have to use some properties close by for specific facilities like caddies’ accommodation,” Roper said.

 

Leishman has the energy to end testing year on a high 0

Posted on December 08, 2015 by Ken

 

It’s been an eventful and testing year for Australian golfer Marc Leishman, but he had the energy to end it on a high and claim the biggest paycheque of his career in winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City by six strokes on Sunday.

With home favourite Jaco van Zyl tumbling down the leaderboard – despite eagling the second he slumped to a six-over-par 78 – Leishman’s only challenger in the final round was world number seven Henrik Stenson, who had overcome severe flu to lead the first two rounds.

But after some early struggles, Leishman’s precise iron play took the wind out of Stenson’s sails, with the 2008 champion only managing to post a level-par 72 in stifling heat as the eventual winner produced some superb golf with six birdies in the last 12 holes.

Leishman began the year ranked 46th in the world after top-10 finishes in the Open and two World Golf Championships events in 2014, but his early season was severely disrupted by his wife Audrey suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, going into toxic shock and only being given a 5% chance of survival.

Happily she made it through and Leishman played in the Open Championship in July and lost out in the playoff with winner Zach Johnson and South African Louis Oosthuizen.

“I’ve been pretty happy to get this year over with, obviously with Audrey being very sick and I lost an uncle who was very close to me. The Open was very good but disappointing, so this win tops off the year for me. It’s pretty great, an awesome feeling and I’m very happy. It’s the biggest paycheque I’ve ever won so I’ll have to hang it on the wall of our new house,” a delighted Leishman said after he became just the second Australian to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge after Robert Allenby, who beat Stenson in a playoff in 2009.

With the demise of Van Zyl confirmed on the ninth, where he three-putted for bogey to add to the double-bogey he had on the sixth and another dropped shot on eight, the recipient of the $1.25 million winner’s cheque was obviously going to be either Leishman or Stenson.

But Leishman spun a sand-wedge back to within a few inches of the hole for birdie on the par-four 13th and the final nail in the coffin was hammered in when he birdied the 15th from 15 feet and Stenson made bogey after a wayward drive meant he had to chip out of thick bush.

Another birdie on the par-three 16th and two pars coming in meant Leishman completed the round of the day with his 67.

“Henrik is an awesome player who I knew could come back with five birdies in nine holes and two or three up is not that many over nine holes on this course. I knew that trouble waited on every shot and you don’t need to hit that bad a shot to get bogey here. It was probably only after the putt on 16 that I knew I would have to do something really dumb to lose it, but fortunately I was able to be more conservative,” Leishman said.

 

This summer tradition will be almost unrecognisable 0

Posted on November 28, 2015 by Ken

 

The Nedbank Golf Challenge is almost as much of a summer tradition in South Africa as watermelon, mielies, Redchested Cuckoos calling “Piet-my-Vrou!” and cricket, but there will be a definite sense of the end of an era when the tournament starts at Sun City on Thursday.

The event that started in 1981 as the richest tournament in golf – the only one to offer a million dollars in prizemoney –had a field of just five invited contestants, before going to 10 the next year. There were eight golfers in 1987 and 1988 and the event had its traditional 12-man field from 1993 to 2012 (apart from 2003 when South Africa hosted the President’s Cup and both teams played), before becoming a 30-player tournament in 2013.

With the expansion came official European Tour status and more world ranking points, but still almost no Americans have visited Sun City in the last 10 years and there has almost been a feeling of Africa’s Major gradually sliding towards extinction in these vastly-different socio-economic times.

On the continent where human evolution began, it’s always been a case of adapt or die, and so it is welcome news that the Nedbank Golf Challenge will undergo a major change from next year.

For 34 years the tournament has been held in the first weekend of December, a harbinger almost of the festive season and a chance for corporate South Africa to have a year-end party. But now the Nedbank Golf Challenge will be a part of the European Tour’s prestigious and lucrative Finals Series, which has enhanced prizemoney and Race to Dubai points for the leading performers on tour that season, in November.

The fact that the Nedbank Golf Challenge will be the penultimate tournament on the calendar, starting on November 10, the week before the Tour Championship, the season finale in Dubai, raises hopes that some top-class golfers will once again visit South Africa.

At the end of the year, who knows, maybe even the likes of Rory McIlroy will be chasing points as he looks to defend his Race to Dubai crown.

I said a while ago that the Nedbank Golf Challenge’s best hope of survival would be to become a regular, albeit lucrative and prestigious, tournament on the European Tour schedule, and the other major change is that the field will now comprise 72 golfers.

The top 64 in the Race to Dubai standings will be invited, but there will still be space for the defending champion, the winner of the Sunshine Tour order of merit and six invited golfers, with Americans probably being the major target there.

A long time ago, Gary Player and Sol Kerzner had a dream to bring the world’s best golfers to South Africa and, with Nedbank staying on board and increasing their sponsorship to the extent that the prizemoney is now $7 million, the new era at Sun City will hopefully attract the cream of the crop, certainly in terms of European talent.

 

Order of Merit triumph means Aiken is finally playing in Nedbank Golf Challenge 0

Posted on March 24, 2015 by Ken

 

Thomas Aiken has been watching the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City since he was seven years old and now he will finally be playing in the event following his nailbiting triumph in the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit in the final event, the South African Open, at Glendower Golf Club at the weekend.

Aiken faced a terrifying two-putt from about 90 feet on the last hole for par to ensure a top-10 finish in the SA Open and enough of a payday to overtake Danie van Tonder in the final Order of Merit, and the 31-year-old left himself with a knee-wobbling 10-footer, which he curled into the hole.

The three-time winner on the European Tour eventually finished in a six-way tie for fifth and earned R430 000, while Van Tonder shot a 75 in the final round to finish tied-55th and made R52 500. That meant Aiken beat Van Tonder to first place on the Order of Merit by just over R157 000, but if he had bogeyed the last hole, that one stroke would have left him R1300 behind his young compatriot.

“I didn’t want to know the permutations but I knew a top-10 finish may be enough, so I was aiming top-five to make sure. With three holes to play, I knew I was tied eighth or ninth, so I said to myself that the worse-case scenario was three pars.

“I made good putts on 16 and 17, but then a really poor iron shot on 18, because I was trying to be too safe. I was far enough from the hole that I couldn’t see it and then my second putt was a good 10 feet away. It was maybe worse than having a putt to win a tournament, but I managed to make one of my best putts ever,” Aiken said.

“Winning the Order of Merit is something I’ve been looking forward to since I started playing on the Sunshine Tour in 2002. I’ve been close before and it’s nice to finally get it under the belt. Winning the Sid Brews Trophy is very nice and winning the money-list is obviously a feat because this is one of the five main tours in the world. But it also comes with substantial perks that can make your career – I’m into the British Open, the Memorial, three World Golf Championship events and the Nedbank Golf Challenge, which I’ve dreamed about playing in since I was a kid in the early 90s,” the born-and-bred Johannesburger said.

Winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit means Aiken, who has a full card on the European Tour, must have sacrificed to so strongly support his local tour and he said it was because he loves the grand old courses that so many of the co-sanctioned events are played on.

Glendower is certainly one of those and Royal Johannesburg and Kensington, where he will tee it up in the Joburg Open from February 26, is too, but he will sadly miss out on the Africa Open at the old-style East London Golf Club because of his qualification for the WGC Cadillac Championship at the Blue Monster in Florida at the same time.

When Van Tonder shot 78 in the first round at Glendower, his Order of Merit hopes seem to have been dashed, but he birdied his last three holes in the second round to make the cut and Aiken said this typified the gutsy youngster.

“Danie has played extremely well all year, there are few 23-year-olds that can be that consistent all year and he’s had multiple wins. He’s a very tenacious young man  and he has the fiery spirit to make it, he grinds through when the chips are down, he has BMT – like he showed when birdieing the last three holes to make the cut,” Aiken said.

 

 



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