Ernie Els and Charl Schwartzel might both be Major Champions, but the South African pair have revealed the special regard they hold the Nedbank Golf Challenge in ahead of the tournament’s first appearance on The European Tour.
Els has won the limited-field event in Sun City three times, but his compatriot Schwartzel is also keen to land a tournament with a list of illustrious champions including Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Sir Nick Faldo.
“It feels great to be back,” said Els, who last lifted the trophy in 2002. “When I drove through the gates here in the morning it’s a special feeling. A lot of great memories came back.
“They’ve changed the field format and European Tour has gotten involved, so a lot of things in that way have changed. I still think the ‘million dollar’ feel will never go away. It’s still a limited-field event and sure, there are more players, but it’s still a special event in its own right.
“This tournament has always been very special. I remember coming here as a little guy. I watched in the 1980s as a little guy, I think I was 12 and it was 1981 and the first Nedbank Golf Challenge. I came here as a spectator with my uncle. We drove up from Kempton Park for a day and I think I lost them, because I was following some players. It must have been Gary Player.
“I remember wandering up by the 13th tee and I was so thirsty I thought I was going to die! One of the caddies gave me a coke and he must have really thought I was in bad shape. It’s those kind of things that you remember.
“I used to watch on TV and as a spectator here for many years. I’m in the same boat as a lot of the other guys. When I got my first nod to play it was a dream come true. It always felt like a very special event and it still feels like that, I can see where it comes from, because every South African player wanted to get a chance to play the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
“We’ve all got stories as spectators here. When I was in the army I used to swim in the 18th pond late at night. Those were different days!”
On his chances of adding a fourth title at Gary Player Country Club, Els added: “I feel like I’m striking the ball really nicely, but rust is rust. I love this pace, so hopefully things will fall into place.
“I’ve had some great years here and played some really nice rounds of golf. You reflect back. When you see a score or a memory from when you won ten or 12 years ago you reflect on those rounds and the feelings and you want to copy that. You want to take that into your next round and for me that is the first round tomorrow. I want to take a nice feeling into tomorrow and build on that, and it really helps when you’ve done some good things at certain events.”
Former Masters Tournament winner Schwartzel is the early leader on The Race to Dubai after winning last week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship.
And the 29 year old is keen to maintain his fine form in an event that he holds dear to his heart.
“It’s nice to be back and Sun City has always been a special place,” said Schwartzel. “To come back for the Nedbank and to Sun City is great, there are not many tournaments that match up to it.
“It’s a tournament that has a lot of meaning to me. I came to see my idols play here – Ernie Els, Nick Price, Retief Goosen. I see these kids running around here and I know what that feels like, so this is definitely one tournament that would be a dream to win. You come out at a young age and watch it, and to be able to try and win it – that would make a great story one day.
“Coming off a win you always have good confidence and you couldn’t ask for a better time to come into this tournament.”