Trevor Immelman will attempt to create modern day history this week when he defends his title in the South African Airways Open at Durban Country Club, the first Order of Merit tournament on The European Tour in 2005.
The 25 year old won the title for the first time at his home Erinvale Golf Club in 2003 – beating Tim Clark in a play-off - and returned to the site of his formative years the following season to repeat the triumph, this time by three shots over Alastair Forsyth and Steve Webster.
Now Immelman will attempt to become the first player in nearly four decades – and only the fourth in history - to win golf’s second oldest national open three years running, the last man to achieve the feat being his idol, Gary Player, from 1965-1967.
The first to accomplish it was George Fotheringham from 1910 to 1912 before Bobby Locke (1937 to 1939) and Player completed the hat-trick. Locke and Player went on to win five times in succession, but to join such an illustrious group of his fellow countrymen at this stage of his career would be a huge thrill for Immelman who admitted what winning the tournament meant to him.
“Obviously it was a fantastic moment for me to defend the title. The South African Open title means a lot to me, or to any South African golfer and to have my name on that trophy twice is something I’m very proud of,” he said.
Immelman will face a stiff challenge in his quest for title number three from a truly international field. Previous winners looking to get their hands on the silverware again include South Africans David Frost and Clark, and Mathias Grönberg of Sweden.
But perhaps the biggest challenge might come from Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, who will be keen to get the competitive juices flowing again after an elongated winter break spent at home with his wife Heather who now, thankfully, is winning her battle against cancer.
“There is still some way to go, but Heather's Oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Stephen Johnson, is satisfied that Heather is responding well to her treatment and is happy with her progress", said Clarke.
Clarke also hopes to be able to donate any winnings he accrues from the week at Durban Country Club to the Tsunami appeal, and the bigger the better. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to put the winner’s cheque into the fund,” he said. “Golf has been placed into perspective after what has happened at home and elsewhere.”
In many ways, Durban Country Club is the spiritual home of the South African Open, and this week will see it play host for the 16th time, more than any other venue in the tournament's rich history.
It was first played there in 1924, two years after the course was opened, and its Champions' Roll of Honour reads like a Who's Who of Golf, including luminaries such as Bob Charles, Locke and Player, whose 13 wins between 1956 and 1981 remains, by some margin, the tournament record.