George Coetzee (Getty Images)
George Coetzee hopes sharing a birthday with the man the tournament is named after will prove a lucky omen at The Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa this week.
Both Coetzee and South Africa’s most revered leader were born on July 18 – albeit 68 years apart – and the 26 year old admits the former President will be an inspiration as he tries to win his first European Tour title.
“This week is Nelson Mandela’s event; I’ve always shared my birthday with Nelson, and this is quite big,” he said. “This is a man who changed our country and made it what it is now.
“He made it a lot better and having a tournament in his name is unbelievable. I’m sure a lot of South Africans are looking forward to playing this week.
“I want to win badly, but the way my season went – I played well, I was in contention a lot and I felt like I didn’t make a lot of mistakes. When I was in contention and still didn’t win I still enjoyed the game and I’m playing the best golf of my life and I feel it’s just around the corner. Hopefully the first one will be a Major!”
While the event in Durban heralds the start of a new European Tour season, for co-sanction partners the Sunshine Tour it is their penultimate event, with Coetzee looking to catch Branden Grace at the top of the Order of Merit.
“I’m just finally happy that I’ve caught Branden in The Race to Dubai,” joked Coetzee, after his compatriot enjoyed a remarkable 2012 – winning four times and finishing sixth on the money list. “We’re finally level pegging now that the season starts over.
“It’s a new season, but obviously it’s nice to start in South Africa and especially with a couple of nice events like this one and next week.
“I think next week will be the main decider [for the Sunshine Tour order of merit], but it’s going to interesting over the next couple of weeks.
“There are a bunch of guys who can come through. Trevor Fisher Junior has had a great season, so I’m sure he’s also one to look at. It will be interesting to see the scoreboards and have the people at home doing the math and working out what scenarios could play out.”
While chasing his fist European Tour title is undoubtedly a priority for Coetzee after 18 top-ten finishes, the World Number 49 is also keen to maintain his place in the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 50 until the end of the year and secure a place in April’s Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
“It’s great to look at it, but then you realize you’ve got to defend the spot,” he added. “I’ve got to look at it differently and try to catch a few guys ahead of me. It’s a big couple of weeks for me.”