Kitayama gunning for rookie glory

Kurt Kitayama is hoping to move a step closer to emulating World Number One Brooks Koepka when he tees it up at this week's Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player.

Kurt Kitayama

No American had ever won the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award before Peter Uihlein in 2013, and 12 months later it was Koepka who was crowned the European Tour's top newcomer.

Since then Koepka has gone on to win four Major Championships and while Kitayama has yet to hit those heights, his maiden campaign has been spectacular.

He won twice in the first ten events of the season but was passed by Scotsman Robert MacIntyre in the rookie race as the victories were his only top tens of the season heading into mid-October.

A top five in the Rolex Series at the Italian Open ignited his campaign and he followed that with another top five at the Amundi Open de France.

Race to Dubai Show - Kurt Kitayama defies the drama

A play-off defeat at last week's Turkish Open moved him above MacIntyre and up to 11th on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex and he is seeking more Rolex Series success this week at Gary Player Country Club.

"It would be a huge," he said of the possibility of being crowned the European Tour's top rookie. "Previous winners like Brooks who have won it, they have had very successful careers.

"When I was struggling midway through the season, I think I was really pushing myself, putting a lot of pressure on myself to try and finish high and win.

"Now I just want to have solid weeks. Just not push myself, put a lot of pressure on myself, just let it come to me and it's working out really well."

Robert MacIntyre

MacIntyre sits less than 100 points behind Kitayama with three second places in 2019 and whatever happens over the next two weeks, he is delighted with his season.

"It's huge," he said. "It's obviously a goal of mine now that we're getting to the end of the year and I'm in with a chance of it but I've got to play good golf. If I play good golf then we're going to be close.

"It's going to go down to the last event in Dubai, it's as simple as that. I'm just going to focus on my golf and if it's good enough, it's good enough and if it's not, I've just missed out again.

"There's not many guys that have rookie seasons the way that me and Kurt have. If I finish top 20 on the Race to Dubai in my rookie year it's been an unbelievable success for myself and the team around. It's only positives from this year."

Read next