Despite having the cream of European golf at his disposal in The 2012 Ryder Cup, José María Olazábal still admits to being envious of the wealth of golfing talent South African perennially produces.
The man who led his charges to victory in the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ is one of the star attractions in this week’s inaugural Tshwane Open, held at the Ernie Els-designed Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate.
The Spaniard has been suitably impressed with Els’ sweeping design, which is hosting an event co-sanctioned by The European and Sunshine Tours for the first time.
He said: “It’s a great course but it’s also very long, even though we’re not off the back tees all the time. The front nine is particularly long. I’m struggling with my driving and with the golf course being as long as it is, you need to drive it well. But hopefully I can find something over the next few days.”
Olazábal has been taken with the weather in Centurion, but what has impressed him more than anything is the sheer volume of golfing talent which keeps emerging from South Africa. Given that his native land has produced such luminaries as Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jiménez, to name but three, it is some statement.
He said: “You have a lot of great players, no question. For whatever reason, this country is able to deliver great players. To be honest, the level here is much better than in Spain. It’s true that for a while we had great players in Spain, but we are struggling to see a new generation coming through. But you have a lot of great players, Major winners, in this country. In a way, I envy that.”
This week marks the first time that Olazabal has teed up in an event co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, having previously played in the invitation-only Nedbank Golf Challenge and the Volvo Golf Champions, solely sanctioned by The European Tour event.
And he is not surprised that The 2013 European Tour Schedule features six tournaments in South Africa.
He said: “This is a country that’s doing well at the moment. It’s nice to come to countries like this where the courses are so good and the weather is great. It’s great to play competitive golf under perfect conditions.”
This week’s field includes the 2005 US Open Champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, who is equally impressed with the current state of South African golf.
He said: “There must be something in the water here – it’s incredible. There are so many wonderful players coming out of South Africa now. It’s a tribute to the guys who paved the way, such as Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.”
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, The 2011 Open champion, and a host of multiple winners on The European Tour complete a strong field in the €1.5million tournament.