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Ken Borland

A contingent of 11 Saffas tackle PGA layout that favours top-class approach play 0

Posted on June 20, 2022 by Ken

A contingent of 11 South African golfers will tackle a daunting Southern Hills layout from Thursday in the PGA Championship, the second Major of the year, with the 7556-yard course favouring those with top-class approach play.

Tilted greens with fast run-off areas that repel wayward approach shots, combined with heavy bunkering, make for a difficult challenge that will put a premium on accurate approach play and good putting.

Erik van Rooyen is the leading South African on the PGA Tour in terms of the Shots Gained on Approach statistics but he has a love-hate relationship with the PGA Championship. His best finish in a Major was his tied-eighth finish in the 2019 event at Bethpage Black, but last year at Kiawah Island he smashed a tee-box marker on his way to missing the cut.

Although he withdrew for unexplained reasons from last weekend’s Byron Nelson Classic, Van Rooyen is South Africa’s second-highest ranked golfer at No.61 in the world.

Louis Oosthuizen (15th) is still South Africa’s highest-ranked performer, but a cloud of uncertainty hangs over a golfer who has perennially flattered to deceive at the Majors, having six runners-up finishes to go with a solitary win – at the 2010 Open Championship.

Oosthuizen has been strongly linked with the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series backed by Saudi Arabia, which starts in June, so this could be a swansong at the Majors for the 39-year-old.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout is third in the rankings amongst South Africans at 67th and also good around and on the greens. He has been consistent, making 13 of 15 cuts on the PGA Tour this year, without being a regular contender.

For a real dark horse, look no further than world number 68 Shaun Norris, who has been the best putter on the DP World Tour this year and strong in his approach play as well. This week could be a great opportunity for him to improve on his Major record of five missed cuts in seven events, with a best finish of tied-61st in the 2018 Open.

The other South Africans in the field – Justin Harding, Garrick Higgo, Dean Burmester, Oliver Bekker, Charl Schwartzel, Danie van Tonder and Branden Grace – can all be considered long shots, although Southern Hills was the venue for two memorable Southern African Major triumphs with Nick Price winning the 1994 PGA Championship by a lengthy six shots and Retief Goosen triumphing in a nervewracking playoff for the 2001 U.S. Open.

Not only is Southern Hills long, but it will be playing to par-70 and there are normally tricky winds to deal with in the rolling hills of Oklahoma’s Green Country, as well as a creek that runs throughout the course. It requires precise planning and execution, especially on the lay-ups, and the winning score is not expected to be much under-par.

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