South Africa’s Michiel Bothma will take inspiration from his cousin Branden Grace when he returns to defend his title in the Barclays Kenya Open this week.
Bothma claimed the title at Muthaiga Golf Club on the outskirts of Nairobi 12 months ago, edging out his younger cousin into tied third place, but it was Grace who went on to secure promotion to The European Tour at the end of the season – via the Qualifying School – and has taken it by storm, winning back-to-back titles in January.
A tied third place finish at the Joburg Open, the scene of 23 year old Grace’s first victory, gave Bothma a fine start to the year, so he returns to Kenya for his first Challenge Tour appearance of 2012 armed with confidence as well as great memories.
“I was ecstatic that week,” said the 39 year old, who finished 45th in the 2011 Challenge Tour Rankings. “It was a nice win. Kenya almost feels like home to me. I have friends there and there are normally a lot of South Africans, so it felt very comfortable.
“You never know when your first win on any tour will come, and leading up to the event I really started playing well. I also worked very hard prior to it. Instead of taking a break, I didn’t stop from the year before.
“After the second day I really felt like I was hitting it well and I was going to win. It just felt like it was going to happen. After that week I thought it would be a great year, but it just didn’t happen.
“I’m thrilled for Branden. I’ve been telling him for almost a year that he’s way better than the Challenge Tour. He hits it better than most guys I see on The European Tour. I’m definitely expecting much bigger things from him in years to come.
“I’d love to join him on The European Tour next year. I feel I’ve got a good enough game to be there. For some people it happens later in life, and for others it happens early, so I’m going to keep plugging away and hopefully my day will come. If you push too hard, sometimes it doesn’t happen, so I just need to relax and enjoy it. As long as you work hard on it, the wheel will turn.”
Bothma believes his game is ideally suited to the par-71, 7,236-yards course at Muthaiga Golf Club, adding: “I like hitting wedges to greens, and the greens are pretty receptive. It’s a putting course. It’s not easy making putts, but somehow I just read the greens very well.
“I think that’s why it suits me because once you read the greens and make a lot of putts, the ball-striking doesn’t have to be all that great to make a good score. I see a lot of people struggling on the greens and not making putts, but they come easily to me.”
The Barclays Kenya Open is the third tournament – and third continent visited – of the 2012 Challenge Tour season, following the Gujurat Kensville Challenge in India and the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Classic.
The year’s first two champions, Germany’s Maximilian Kieffer and Englishman Phil Archer, will be in the field to contest the €190,000 prize fund, as will Chris Lloyd, who finished in the top ten in both events.
England’s Nick Dougherty will hope to continue his renaissance after finishing tied fourth on his Challenge Tour debut in Colombia, while Danish duo Morten Ørum Madsen and Andreas Hartø, who are fourth and fifth respectively in the Rankings, will be looking to build on their fine starts to the campaign.