The Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City has captivated South African golf fans since 1981 and Branden Grace is one of the local golfers who is desperate to add to the tally of home wins (10) when the tournament gets underway at the Gary Player Country Club on Thursday.
Despite having just completed his pro-am round in temperatures which were said to be approaching 40 degrees, Grace seemed so keen to get the tournament started that you could imagine his antennas twitching with eagerness.
“I think there’s a good chance of a South African winner because we all really want to be here. This is my fourth Nedbank Golf Challenge and I’m still desperate to win. It’s the tournament we all grew up watching on TV and we all want to win it. Especially after finishing third and fourth in my last two tries,” Grace said on Wednesday.
“It’s really hot out there, it’s brutal, and you just have to stay hydrated and try not to make life hard for yourself. You need to get everything right, the course is a lot tighter than previously, although the rough is not as thick. The fairways are pretty soft so the ball doesn’t roll as much, but the greens are as good as I’ve ever seen them.
“I played for five weeks on a stretch starting with the Presidents Cup but then I went to Fancourt just to relax with my wife and the dog. I had a good week of work coming in and I feel more refreshed maybe than some of the other guys who’ve had two big weeks before this. Maybe I’m better coming in fresh and with experience of the course.”
Grace said 2017 had been a tough year due to an asymmetry between how solid he felt he had played and the lack of wins. Four top-10 finishes split between Europe and the USA have been his highlights, but he did take the golfing world by storm back in July when he became the first man to shoot a 62 in a major, at the Open at Royal Birkdale.
“My form hasn’t been as good as the last couple of years, it’s been more steady than anything else, but it’s been one of my best years in terms of how few missed cuts I had. I didn’t have great finishes though, maybe I tried to push too hard. It’s been a bit of a grind.
“But I feel like I’ve made progress, I feel like my game is coming around, I had two top-15 finishes last month so the game is getting there. On this course, you just need to take your opportunities. I played great last year with Alex Noren [defending champion] and I don’t feel I did anything wrong, he just played amazingly well,” Grace said.