Wilco Nienaber will make the first title defence of his professional career in this week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am at Fancourt Golf Estate, in a tournament that marks the start of the Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour’s run of seven co-sanctioned events.
The Strategic Alliance between the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour group has facilitated the 2022 Road to Mallorca starting with seven co-sanctioned events – including six in South Africa and one in Tanzania – and an international field of golfers from 30 countries will tee it up at Fancourt this week, including double U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
Nienaber, 21, earned a maiden professional victory by defeating Sweden’s Henric Sturehed in a play-off in 2021 but fell just short of securing a DP World Tour card as he finished 21st on the Road to Mallorca Rankings, one place outside the graduation spots.
“I’m really excited,” said Nienaber as he returns to the scene of his breakthrough victory in the professional ranks.
“The win feels like such a long time ago. In fact, last year felt like a long year. But I’m pretty sure that as soon as I get to Fancourt I’ll relive some of those memories. Having said that, the focus is on this week and not last year. I want to win it again this year and not get stuck in last year.”
While Nienaber returns as the reigning champion of this historic tournament, Goosen is back as the 2002 winner and as part of a strong field also including Dean Burmester, who won his second DP World Tour title at the Tenerife Open last year, former Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner JC Ritchie, and six former champions of this event.
“It’s a big tournament with a lot of points on offer, so you’ve always got to make sure you’re ready for it. I’ve got a plan for the week and I’m looking forward to it,” said Nienaber.
A large part of that plan is navigating the challenge of three different courses – the Montagu, Outeniqua and Links – and the popular pro-am format.
“It’s important to make sure your energy levels are spot-on this week. A lot of the success this week is about getting your preparation right, and then being patient out there. We’re fortunate to have a long run of Challenge Tour events coming up, so I’ve got a good plan in terms of my preparation and making sure I’m ready for every tournament I play in.”
This will also be the second week that Nienaber has veteran caddie Ricci Roberts on his bag. He and Roberts, the man alongside the majority of Ernie Els’s successful career, started working together at the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final at Sun City, and Nienaber says the experience he brings is invaluable.
“It just happened that we started working together,” he said. “There was no real reason behind it. It’s great to have his experience on the bag. I remember at Sun City, when it came to the first round of the tournament, it just felt like another practice round. He brings that experience and calm to the situation.”
The Dimension Data Pro-Am will take place from Thursday February 10 – Sunday February 13 at Fancourt Golf Estate.