South African Richard Sterne will hit the comeback trail when he lines up in the field for this week’s Africa Open.
The five-time European Tour winner returns to action after missing most of 2011 with a back injury that has prevented him making a competitive appearance since last February.
But despite a lack of practice, the 30 year old can draw comfort from his outstanding record on home soil, where he has won three of his European Tour titles including back-to-back victories at the 2009 Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open Championship.
“My last competitive round was at the Telkom PGA Championship in February last year, so I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little nervous,” he said.
“I’ve played five lots of nine holes in the last three weeks, but today was the first time I played 18 holes in nearly a year. It went surprisingly well, so I’m cautiously optimistic for the week ahead.”
Having climbed to 29th in the Official World Golf Ranking after his successive European Tour wins three years ago, Sterne is now outside the top 1000 after battling arthritis.
“I have three bulging discs in various places in my back and I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis,” Sterne added.
“Unfortunately there is no overnight cure for this type of injury and the recovery process is a long one. At the start I wasn’t patient enough and didn’t give the therapy a proper chance to work, so within a week or two I’d be on the crutches list again.
“The bulging discs caused me a lot of pain, even referral pain in my ribs and really limited my movement. I got very stiff in my upper body and couldn’t rotate more than an inch either way. The spondylitis didn’t help the cause.
"In this sport you have to practice several hours a day, six days a week for several weeks on end to stay in top form. I’ve stuck out the therapy and gym work for the last 11 months and I finally got onto medication for the ankylosing spondylitis. I feel better than ever and I’m ready to compete.”
Due to his prolonged absence from the game, Sterne begins The 2012 Race to Dubai on a medical exemption – but hopes to change that on one of his favourite courses.
“I just love this course,” Sterne said of the East London layout where he holds the course record. “I played Inter-Provincial here in 1997 and the SA Amateur, where I did quite well, so the course definitely has some good memories. It’s a thinking man’s course. I enjoy the fact that you have to play a lot of feel shots around this track.
“The wind does blow here and that eliminates quite a few of the players. I think the course suits my eye very well and that’s why it’s so exciting to come back at this venue.”
“I can’t say that I’m not bothered with how I play this week. I want to come out here and do well; I kind of expect myself to do well. I might be a bit hard on myself, but that’s the bottom line. I feel like I’m playing quite well, so if I can have a couple of solid rounds, come Sunday I might be in with a chance.”