In keeping with the traditions of New Year, Englishman Anthony Wall will take the opportunity to meet up with an old acquaintance next week when he lines up in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.
The ‘friend’ in question for the 25-year-old from Sunningdale is the Houghton Golf Course in Johannesburg where, last January, he claimed his maiden European Tour success with a two shot victory over Phillip Price and Gary Orr.
Although heavy rain forced tournament officials to cut the event to 54 holes, nothing could dampen Wall’s delight, especially as his father and mentor Tom was there to watch his son pocket the 125,927 euro first prize thanks to a closing 68 for a winning 12-under-par total of 204.
“Last year wasn’t the first time I’d played there,” said Wall. “I played the year before and finished 61st and the year before that I finished seventh and partnered Greg Norman on the last day which was quite an experience.
“So I’m quite well acquainted with the course. I’d say, and not just because I won, that it’s definitely up there in my top three and I’m really looking forward to going back.
“It’s a very good test. It’s always in great condition too, even when it had the amount of rain it did last year, it holds up excellently and that shows how well it is designed.
“It’s a long parkland layout which requires you to be very accurate off the tee. It’s a good players’ course, if you’re playing well, you should score well.
“It’s also one of those courses where, even though it’s long, you have to position your shots because some holes have the odd tree hanging over the fairway which you don’t want to get stuck behind, and there are also some tricky bunkers on several holes as well.
“There are some cracking long holes too where you take your driver and you’ve got to really think about where you’re trying to hit the ball, not just boot it down there. Some courses you can just hit it anywhere but there, with the rough being quite deep, if you go off the fairway you’re not going to be able to reach the green.
“It’s funny when I think about the course because they (tournament officials) actually changed it round last year, They swapped the two nines round so now they have two par fives in the last three holes. But the three holes before the last three are probably the hardest on the course (the 13th, 14th and 15th).
“That was really where I won it last year. I birdied the 14th and 15th while most people were dropping at least one shot on that stretch. That is the key to the golf course, that little loop.”
Although he got 2000 off to a flier and eventually finished 44th on the Volvo Order of Merit, Wall admitted his season had not gone entirely to plan thanks to illness.
“I was relatively happy with the year all in all but it was disappointing to be laid low with a couple of bouts of glandular fever during the season,’’ he said.
“I was laid low for two and a half months after Dubai and later on I was off for about six weeks in the height of the season. So I actually had to start my season three times which was difficult especially for the later events in the year.
“I’ve had the all-clear for this year so hopefully I’ll be okay. It’s a lot to do with the lifestyle really, all the rushing around and different people’s bodies react in different ways. I’ve tried to control that now and I’ve worked very hard on things like my diet and trying to get plenty of rest whenever possible.”
One aspect which did cheer the Englishman, despite the lengthy spells on his sickbed, was the fact he again managed to improve his overall Volvo Ranking from the 90th place finish he enjoyed in 1998 to the 59th place finish gained in the 1999 season.
“My aim every year is to get higher and higher on the order of merit,’’ he said. “This year, for instance, my goal is to try and break into the top 30 because that’s where I think the real respect comes from on the European Tour.
“Once you’re there, or in the top 25 say, they are the real class players and I feel that’s where I want to break in to. Obviously because of my win, my card is secure for this year whatever happens so, setting out, that is what I have my eye on for 2001.
“I’m also going to try and be a little more consistent and attempt to post some more high finishes. I was fifth in the Benson and Hedges International Open last year which was my best finish outside the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
“That was after my first spell of time off ill and again it represented another start for me which was strange – it was a funny year all in all. Here’s hoping I can have just one start this year, be successful, and keep it going.”
Wall will face a high quality field in the chase for Alfred Dunhill Championship glory, led by two former champions at Houghton, Germany’s Sven Struver who won over 54 holes in 1996 and Zimbabwe’s Tony Johnstone who triumphed two years later, pipping home favourite Ernie Els.
Also in the field is three time Open champion Nick Faldo and Welshman Phillip Price, who enjoyed his best season to date on the European Tour last year when he finished eighth on the Volvo Order of Merit.
The home challenge is led by Retief Goosen, who finished fourth last year, and 26-year-old Desvonde Botes, who won the European Tour Qualifying School at San Roque last November with a record low score of 15-under-par 417.
One person who will give Wall all the encouragement possible during his title defence is dad Tom, the family number bolstered as well by his brother Andrew who is also making the trip to South Africa.
“It made it that extra bit special having my dad out there with me when I won last year so hopefully we will have as good a time this year,’’ he said.
“We’ve been out together quite a bit at home preparing for the trip. We do play the odd game together but more often than not he prefers to be on the sidelines watching how I’m swinging and playing and seeing if there is anything he can spot to make me play better.”
If Anthony can produce the same form as last year at Houghton, Mr Wall snr will find it very hard to come up with any areas of improvement.