Nedbank Golf Challenge champion Branden Grace is not expecting slews of birdies at Glendower Golf Club as he sets out to complete a rare treble in the South African Open starting on Thursday.
Grace won at Sun City in November and, having claimed the Alfred Dunhill Championship title at Leopard Creek in 2015, he would join Ernie Els as the only golfer to claim South Africa’s three biggest crowns if he triumphs in the SA Open.
But the 29-year-old world number 30 knows it won’t be easy, given the competitors also eager to get their hands on the trophy and the toughness of the course.
“The course is good and the greens are phenomenal, I think it’s the best I’ve seen them here. The surfaces are so quick, I think they may be the quickest surfaces I’ve played on in South Africa. The rough is thick as well so it’s going to be a ball-striker’s week.
“You’re also going to have to give yourself some chances on the putts. It’s going to be a grinder’s course this week because the greens are going to be slick and the rough is up. I like to think I’m a grinder, so I hope I can be in there with a shout,” Grace said.
Grace has spent the last seven weeks in Fancourt on holiday and is well-rested, if perhaps a tad rusty. The rest of the field are pretty much in the same boat, though, and there are plenty of his compatriots who are desperate to win their national open as well.
George Coetzee has not performed well in the SA Open recently and has missed the cut in the last three years, but he comes into this edition feeling in some sort of form.
“I think the problem’s always been that it’s this early in the year and we’ve just come from holiday, but I think I planned it well this year. I cut the holiday short a bit and came back and practised, so I feel much more prepared than I’ve been the last couple of years, so hopefully we can play some better golf.
“It was just getting everything loose and I spent a lot of time on every aspect of my game. Everything feels nice and loose and I know what to expect, so it gets easier to manage. I played well in the practice round which showed my head is in a good place,” Coetzee said.
South African Major winners Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel are all in the field, as well as Brandon Stone (the champion in 2016), Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester, Haydn Porteous, Thomas Aiken and Erik van Rooyen.
“We have a great field this week. I’m excited to see a lot of the South Africans here. There are so many of them knocking on the door of doing great things, there are young players here on the brink of becoming great players, and winning the SA Open could be a really great stepping stone for them,” Els, a five-time winner of the event and the tournament host, said.