George Coetzee returns to the scene of his maiden European Tour victory this week hoping that those fond memories can inspire him to another strong showing in the tenth staging of the Joburg Open.
Two years ago the South African claimed a three shot win (see highlights below) on home soil before adding two further victories during a 2015 season that was curtailed by an ankle injury in August.
Having now regained fitness, the 29 year old is aiming to rediscover his best form when he tees up at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
“It’s always one of the more fun golf courses to come back to,” he said. “When you win a tournament, you can finally say ‘I’ve got my game plan down for this golf course’.
“So the homework for this golf course isn’t that much, it’s just the preparations in terms of the game itself – playing, hitting good shots. But at least when I come to this course I know what club to hit on each tee box, so there’s not too much thinking, just playing.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up with these guys playing out here now, but I’m working on some good stuff and I’m excited about the game. It’s just a question of when do we get there.
“I’ve only had two proper golf rounds this year, but we’ll see when I start hitting decent shots and I can start focusing on what my mind’s doing – my first goal is just to make the cut and then maybe shoot an under par round.”
The largest field of the year – 210 players – will assemble in Johannesburg for the first of only two European Tour events this season- with the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - to be played over more than one course.
Last year’s champion Andy Sullivan – absent this week on EURASIA Cup presented by DRB-HICOM duty – broke a sequence of five consecutive South African champions, a run Coetzee puts down to local knowledge.
“I think it’s preparation,” he said. “It’s not really a golf course the guys get to see too often – and then it’s a tournament on two courses, too. The overseas guys come here and do their two practice rounds and they’re tired.
“I think South Africans know the course, but maybe it’s also the texture of the grass. It’s not something the Europeans are used to or enjoy really, because it’s a different texture and it’s quite hard to chip off and hit some shots out of it.
“I think we’re just used to it. We’ve played a lot of amateur golf here and the guys who’ve made it through the ranks have got a bit of a head start here. Hopefully the local dominance continues, and there’s a spot inside the top ten for me this week.”
Adding further interest to the week is the prospect of qualifying for The Open Championship, with the leading three players finishing inside the top ten and ties who are not already exempt earning places at Royal Troon in July.One player already assured of his place in Scotland is Ernie Els, the two-time Open Champion who will be making his first Joburg Open appearance this week.