South African sporting legend and Nedbank Golf Challenge host Gary Player would love to see a compatriot win the tournament for the first time since 2007, but he believes the local challengers will have to ensure they are mentally prepared above all else.
The $7.5 million 37th edition of the event starts at Sun City next Thursday with local fans desperate for the home winner drought, that extends back to Trevor Immelman 10 years ago, to end.
While Player refused to go so far as to try and predict a winner, his heart is still clearly behind the South African contingent.
“Obviously I would like to see a South African win, but it hasn’t been a great year for South African golf. But they are coming back home to play amongst their own people and they need to sit down, almost meditate, almost brainwash themselves into believing they can win. It may take a change of strategy, but they need to fill their minds with confidence and calm.
“Charl Schwartzel is always very comfortable around Sun City and Louis Oosthuizen has a tremendous chance, I believe he has the best swing in the world. But I would like to see Haydn Porteous included, he’s a late bloomer, I saw him hit some balls and he is so talented.
“But to pick a winner is like winning the lottery, there are so many good players and such a big field, it’s a miracle if you get it right. Whoever has a good putting week, whoever putts best, will win. Big-hitting is very over-rated. But I have too much knowledge to try and pick a winner,” Player said on Friday.
As befits one of the most determined characters to ever grace a golf course, Player, famous for dramatic comebacks in his heyday, says he is chasing changes to the Gary Player Country Club course that will make it harder to play.
“The greenkeepers do an incredible job, the course is in as good a shape as any in the world. It’s 7800 metres, but it doesn’t play nearly as long because it’s at high altitude, and I’m anxious to make changes that will make it tougher. They’ve had a little bit of rain, which will help tremendously. Water determines a lot about a course and it’s a big issue in Africa, but that’s in the hands of God. But the new irrigation system we’ve put in at Sun City means we can make the rough much wider.
“When I first went to Sol Kerzner with the idea for the tournament, it was for the four major champions of 1981 and that was a big thing. Then we had larger fields, 12 golfers, but now the event has very much been enhanced by being part of the European Tour. It helps raise awareness of just how good golf is in South Africa.
“It raises global awareness about our country and the Rolex Series is now putting more money into golf than anyone else and the fact it is one of the final events on the Race to Dubai is also wonderful. Tommy Fleetwood has played so well to get to the top of that, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he does in the Nedbank Golf Challenge,” Player said.