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Record US Open start for Oosthuizen 1

18th September 2020

Record US Open start for Oosthuizen

Louis Oosthuizen heads the South African challenge at the US Open after coming through an incomplete first round only two strokes off the lead, and with a new US Open record.

Oosthuizen opened with a round of three-under-par 67 at Winged Foot and is chasing the five-under-par lead of Justin Thomas following a day when the famed golf course appeared in a particularly benign mood. The round had to be suspended because of darkness.

Oosthuizen’s round was his eighth career round of 67 or lower in the US Open and broke a tie with Jack Nicklaus (7) for most rounds of 67 or better in US Open history.

Fellow South African Shaun Norris also made a positive start with his round of one-under-par 69. “The golf course is tough. You’ve got to hit fairways. You’ve got to hit greens. That’s the basic thing about this course. But I really hit the ball nicely. I was happy with it. I gave myself a lot of opportunities, so I can’t complain,” Norris told the media.

Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout came through round one at level par.

JC Ritchie was amongst the leaders early in the first round but eventually settled for a round of four-over-par 74. Branden Grace signed for a 75, while Justin Harding opened with a 77.

 

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SA's Magnificent 7 at US Open

16th September 2020

Magnificent 7 at US Open

It’s been 16 years since a South African last triumphed in the US Open, and this week seven of the country’s finest will be giving it their best shot at Winged Foot.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Shaun Norris, JC Ritchie, Erik van Rooyen, Justin Harding, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen are in the field for only the second Major of 2020, and one where the course is already a talking point.

“I think it’s right up there next to Oakmont and I think Carnoustie as far as just sheer difficulty without even doing anything to it,” Tiger Woods told the media this week.

“I think this place tests every single aspect of your game, so I don’t think I could single out the toughest thing that you need to do or the hardest thing you’re going to have to do this week. It’s all pretty tough,” added Rory McIlroy.

Retief Goosen is the last South African winner of the US Open in 2004. Oosthuizen came close when he finished second behind Jordan Spieth in 2015.

Of the other South Africans in the field, Grace had top US Open finishes of tied fourth and tied fifth in 2015 and 2016, while Erik van Rooyen’s best and only US Open finish to date is tied 43rd in 2019. (Photo Credit: European Tour).

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Coetzee powers in Portugal

14th September 2020

Coetzee powers in Portugal

George Coetzee secured his fifth European Tour title – and his first in Europe – after producing a short game masterclass to hold off a stellar chasing pack and win the 2020 Portugal Masters by two shots.

The South African did not put a foot wrong on Sunday afternoon, posting a spotless 66 that contained five birdies and some outstanding par saves to keep his card clean.

Coetzee began the day with a one shot advantage but was knocked off the top of the leaderboard early on after parring his opening six holes in a patient start to his final round.

The 34-year-old made his first birdie of the day from 20 feet on the difficult seventh before picking up another shot from a similar distance on the short eighth to get to 13 under and regain his one stroke lead.

After making another gain from nine feet at the 11th, Coetzee made key par putts on the 12th and 13th to remain in front as the chasing pack began to gather just behind him on an incredibly bunched leaderboard.

He then holed brilliant birdie putts at the 16th and 17th to move to 16 under par and give himself a two shot cushion heading to the 18th tee.

Coetzee saved his best drive until last and went on to make a nerveless par to win for the second week in a row, having also tasted victory at the Titleist Championship at Pretoria Country Club on the Sunshine Tour last week.

Englishman Laurie Canter finished alone in second on 14 under after he also made five birdies in a flawless 66, while his countryman and World Number 16 Tommy Fleetwood was another stroke back in a tie for third with Swede Joakim Lagergren.

Coetzee made a steady start to his round, tapping in for par at the first before narrowly missing his close range birdie effort on the second.

After slipping from the top of the leaderboard, Coetzee produced a remarkable up-and-down from the thick rough by the sixth green to save par and limit the damage.

He regained the outright lead when he converted lengthy birdie putts at the seventh and eighth before getting up and down from the rough for another valuable par on the ninth.

Coetzee holed a nice birdie putt at the 11th before getting a lucky break on the 12th as his tee shot narrowly avoided the water. He chopped out of the thick stuff on the bank with his second shot before somehow finding the green with his third and going on to save par.

He made another good save from ten feet on the next before sending his tee shot on the short 16th to eight feet and tapping in his birdie putt to get to 15 under.

Another birdie followed at the par five 17th – from around ten feet – before a par at the last secured the trophy.

Coetzee’s previous European Tour victories all came in Africa and he was delighted to make his breakthrough on European soil.

He said: “(Winning in Europe) was the next step for me really.

“I have always had a list of things I wanted to achieve in my career as a golfer and originally I never thought I would get as far as winning on the European Tour, so ticking that box a while back was really nice, and then I started to realise that I was a bit comfortable playing back home and I needed to go to the next step and win away from home.

“And then I won in Mauritius, which still counts as a Sunshine Tour event, so I still felt like I needed to get off my continent and win something else.

“So I am just happy that I kind of ticked the box in the right order.

“I remember as an amateur I had to win a national stroke play event and then try and win one of the big three national match play events. I ended up winning the South African amateur match play before I won the stroke play event, and I felt like I needed to take a step back and figure out how to win a stroke play event.

“It is nice that I am ticking the boxes that I have set for myself.” – European Tour.

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The Rise-Up Review

9th September 2020

The Rise-Up Review

With a two-week break in the new five-tournament Rise-Up Series, it’s a good time to look back at the past three events of what has been an historic series that ended a six-month COVID-19 lockdown and marked the official restart of the Sunshine Tour.

The restart of professional golf in South Africa presented a unique challenge for the Tour. But it was one that was overcome with a comprehensive risk mitigation strategy that incorporated the official GolfRSA Risk Mitigation Strategy as approved by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and elements of the strategies that have been employed by the PGA Tour and the European Tour in their restarts.

“It’s been a great three weeks for us, going off without a hitch. And I’m sure the next two weeks of tournaments will be even better,” said Thomas Abt, Deputy Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

The Rise-Up Series teed off with the Betway Championship at Killarney Country Club, and on perhaps one of the coldest mornings in Sunshine Tour history.

With sub-zero temperatures welcoming the professionals back in action, it was Benoni professional Pieter Moolman who had the honour of leading the field as the first player out.

“It felt great to feel that excitement for the new season and to actually be playing a tournament again. I think we’re all craving that adrenaline and excitement on the golf course, and making birdies,” he said.

Dylan Mostert led the first round by a single stroke with a three-under-par 67, and on a tough day when only eight players in the field broke par. In the second round, Alex Haindl emerged as the new leader with a 67 that took him one clear of the field on three-under-par 137. Anton Haig was also in the mix as he continued his comeback.

But in the final round, it was Darren Fichardt who stormed through the field with a 64 to win by one shot on three-under-par 207 and claim his 18th title on the Sunshine Tour. Ulrich van den Berg came inches close to holing his long birdie putt at the last that would have forced a playoff, and he settled for second place on two-under 208.

The win was also Fichardt’s second victory this year after winning the Eye of Africa PGA Championship in January.

After the first event, Jaco van Zyl led the Betway Birdie Challenge with 13 birdies. The Betway Birdie Challenge will run for the full five tournaments on the series, with the leading birdie maker walking away with R25 000 at the end of the series, followed by R15 000 for second place and R10 000 for third.

The Rise-Up Series then travelled to historic Glendower Golf Club for the African Bank Sunshine Tour Championship.

Young star Jayden Schaper made his presence felt as he challenged for a maiden title on the Tour. Schaper was two shots off the first-round lead held by Martin Rohwer. And then he shared the 36-hole lead with Rohwer and Daniel van Tonder.

But on the final day, Van Tonder was able to pull it through with a bogey-free 68 that earned him a three-shot victory on 11 under par 205.

And Jaco Ahlers took the lead in the Betway Birdie Challenge through two tournaments on the Rise-Up Series with 29 birdies.

From there the Series moved to Pretoria Country Club for the Titleist Championship.

George Coetzee was the outright favourite here on a course he’s played since the age of 10 when he won his first tournament as a junior, and where he’s won two of his four European Tour titles in the 2015 and 2018 Tshwane Opens.

And Coetzee didn’t disappoint.

He shared the first-round lead with Hennie O’Kennedy after both signed for rounds of 67. On day two, Tristen Strydom joined Coetzee in a tie for the lead on seven under par. Strydom was delighted at the prospect of teeing off in the final round with a golfer he calls his hero.

“You know, growing up and playing golf here at Pretoria Country Club as a boy, I always followed George and looked up to him. I’ve always admired him. To play with him in the final group on the final day will be so lekker,” he said.

But there was nothing to stop Coetzee on the final day as he closed with a 66 to win by four shots.

“It’s a very special victory because Pretoria Country Club and Titleist have supported me my whole career, so to win with both involved this week is truly special,” he said.

Jaco Ahlers maintained his position as the leader of the Betway Birdie Challenge with 42 birdies over the past nine rounds of the Rise-Up Series. Jaco Prinsloo is currently second here with 41 birdies, and Darren Fichardt is third with 38 birdies and with just the final two tournaments to come.

The next event on the Rise-Up Series will be at ERPM Golf Club from 23-25 September. – Michael Vlismas.

They Said It

“You can’t just play with your mates for a pie and a Coke and think your game is fine. You want to test it in a tournament where you’re playing for money.” – Jake Roos welcoming a return to competition in the Betway Championship as he stressed the difference between social and competitive golf.

“I’ve changed the way I eat and I’ve lost about 20 kilogrammes. I follow a plan of intermittent fasting and it’s made a huge difference. I feel a lot better and have actually gained distance because I’m a bit more supple. So everything feels a bit more consistent now.” – Daniel van Tonder explains his new diet of intermittent fasting and how it played a part in his victory in the African Bank Sunshine Tour Championship.

“What’s the secret to this course? It’s 20 years of golf at Pretoria Country Club. That’s the secret.” – George Coetzee explaining the secret to his success at Pretoria Country Club after winning the Titleist Championship.

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Coetzee wins again at PCC

4th September 2020

Coetzee wins again at PCC

George Coetzee added yet another title to the many he has won at Pretoria Country Club over the years, claiming the Sunshine Tour’s Titleist Championship by four shots on Friday.

There was a sense of inevitability to Coetzee’s triumph on a golf course he has known and loved since he first played it and won a tournament here at the age of 10, and where he’s also won two European Tour titles in the 2015 and 2018 Tshwane Opens.

And now he can add the Titleist Championship to that list as he closed with a 66 to win this Rise-Up Series tournament on 13-under-par 203.

“It’s a very special victory because Pretoria Country Club and Titleist have supported me my whole career, so to win with both involved this week is truly special,” he said.

“I’m over the moon. It’s nice performing well when people expect it. It’s really nice to have pulled this off on my home course.”

Teeing off tied for the lead with Tristen Strydom on seven under par, Coetzee struggled at the start as he opened with back-to-back bogeys. But it was his run of six birdies in seven holes from the fourth that distanced him from the rest of the field. Further birdies at holes 14 and 17 confirmed his victory.

This is Coetzee’s 11th victory on the Sunshine Tour, but perhaps more significant is that since 2014 he’s only had one year – 2017 – in which he hasn’t won at least once on the Tour.

Strydom closed with a 70 for sole second place on nine under par and his best finish on the Sunshine Tour since winning the Tour’s Qualifying School in March.

Jaco Ahlers finished third on seven under with a final round of 67, and which keeps Ahlers at the top of the Betway Birdie Challenge with 42 birdies over the past nine rounds of the Rise-Up Series. Jaco Prinsloo is currently second here with 41 birdies, and Darren Fichardt is third with 38 birdies. The Betway Birdie Challenge will run for the full five tournaments on the series, with the leading birdie maker walking away with R25 000 at the end of the series, followed by R15 000 for second place and R10 000 for third.

The Rise-Up Series will take a break for the next two weeks before resuming with the fourth event on the series at ERPM Golf Club from 23-25 September.

“Well done to our champions of the past three weeks. I think our winners will remember this as a significant moment in South African professional golf as we restarted our schedule after lockdown, and they will be proud to go down as winners on the inaugural Rise-Up Series,” said Thomas Abt, Deputy Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

“It’s been a great three weeks for us, going off without a hitch. And I’m sure the next two weeks of tournaments will be even better.” – Michael Vlismas

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Strydom joins his hero Coetzee in chase for victory

3rd September 2020

Strydom joins his hero Coetzee in chase for victory

Tiger Woods is an obvious hero for any young golfer. But for Tristen Strydom, the golfer he looks up to is the man he’ll play alongside in the final group on Friday as he and George Coetzee tee off tied for the lead of the Titleist Championship at Pretoria Country Club.

“It’s going to be a dream come true to play alongside George in the final round,” said Strydom, whose 65 on Thursday lifted him into a share of the lead with Coetzee, who signed for a 70, on seven under par. And they’re four strokes clear of the rest of the field.

It’s certainly a special moment for Strydom, who won the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School in March and is now chasing his maiden victory on the Tour. But win or lose on Friday, Strydom is determined to savour this moment.

“You know, growing up and playing golf here at Pretoria Country Club as a boy, I always followed George and looked up to him. I’ve always admired him. To play with him in the final group on the final day will be so lekker.”

This is Strydom’s second season on Tour, and already he says he feels he’s gained so much experience which he hopes will carry him through the nerves of being in contention in a final round.

The eight birdies – starting with a 20-foot putt on the first – , one eagle, one bogey and a double bogey on Thursday will tell you one part of the story of Strydom’s journey to this point. But the hours he spent as a young boy chipping and putting around the Pretoria Country Club practice area until the sun set, working his way through the ranks as a top amateur, turning professional and then realising the real hard work had only begun, tells the other story of just why Friday’s final round with Coetzee is such a big moment for him.

“It’s an opportunity, and I’m very excited. Win or lose, I’m just trying to play good golf and enjoy myself. You know, my first year on Tour last year was a big learning curve. The other golfers out here are really good. People don’t always realise that. Everybody out here works hard and wants it just as badly as I want it. So the biggest thing I’ve learnt is patience. Out here, every shot counts. It’s a whole different world to amateur golf. Learning to accept the good and bad breaks out here is important.”

Now Strydom has the opportunity to gain the one thing that could be even more important to him than even a victory on Friday. Playing alongside his golf hero and having worked his way into a share of the lead in a Sunshine Tour event, Strydom will know he has what it takes. And now he gets the chance to further measure himself against a multiple European Tour champion.

And that is a lekker feeling indeed. – Michael Vlismas.

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Coetzee, O'Kennedy on the ball in Titleist Championship

2nd September 2020

George and Hennie on the ball in Titleist Championship

Like a man watching his favourite movie for the umpteenth time, George Coetzee’s love for Pretoria Country Club shone through once again as it took him into the joint first-round lead of the Sunshine Tour’s Titleist Championship on Wednesday.

On a golf course he first stepped onto as a young boy, every hole played itself out like a fond memory as Coetzee signed for bogey-free five-under-par 67 to finish an overcast first round tied for the lead with birthday boy Hennie O’Kennedy.

They are one-stroke clear of Clayton Mansfield, and with Jaco Ahlers and Merrick Bremner two shots off the lead.

It was hardly surprising to see Coetzee at the top of the leaderboard in this Rise-Up Series tournament, played on a course he knows so well it’s like an extra few shots on the field before they’ve even teed off.

Coetzee won his first tournament here as a 10-year-old, has played countless social and competitive rounds of amateur golf here, and won two of his four European Tour events here in the 2015 and 2018 Tshwane Opens.

“It’s nice to be back here on a golf course I’m very comfortable on. I played with Ulrich van den Berg today and he said to me, ‘You just know where to go here’, and after the round I thought, ‘Ja, I kind of do know where to go on this golf course’,” he said.

Perhaps nothing showed Coetzee’s comfort levels here more than the fact that this was also his first bogey-free round since the start of the Rise-Up Series two weeks ago.

“It’s nice to finally get my first bogey-free round in tournament golf post lockdown. The first tournament I played on the Series after lockdown was not ideal. It was very cold and the course was firm. I wasn’t expecting much, and I didn’t deliver much. Last week at Glendower the greens were quite pure and that helped. But it’s nice to finally post a decent number.”

But Coetzee is hardly taking anything for granted, with two rounds still to come in this 54-hole event.

“If you play well and you’re in a good space, it helps. But there’s no such thing as a gimme in golf. If that was the case I would’ve won every tournament played at Pretoria Country Club, and I obviously haven’t.”

Yet he does seem to have the inside track to the secret for success on this collection of fairways in the Jacaranda suburbs of Pretoria.

And for now, he’s keeping that secret to himself.

“What’s the secret to this course? It’s 20 years of golf at Pretoria Country Club. That’s the secret.” – Michael Vlismas.

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PCC favourites eye Titleist Championship glory

1st September 2020

PCC favourites eye Titleist Championship glory

George Coetzee heads back to a Pretoria Country Club course this week where he won his first junior golf tournament and two of his four European Tour titles, and tees it up as one of the favourites in the Titleist Championship on the Sunshine Tour’s Rise-Up Series.

The R600 000 Titleist Championship is the third 54-hole tournament on the five-event Rise-Up Series, and tees off at this parkland course on Wednesday with a field including several players with an impressive record at Pretoria Country Club.

But few have enjoyed more success here than Coetzee.

Coetzee played his first competitive round of golf at Pretoria Country Club at the age of 10 in a festival known as the Gary Player Week, and which he won on his birthday with a nine-hole score of 49.

As a professional, he made history by becoming the first player to win the Tshwane Open twice at Pretoria Country Club in 2015 and 2018.

And this is also the golf course where as a junior, after being caught playing without a golf shirt on a sweltering day by a club official, Coetzee was made to spend the weekend ball spotting for members in the rough alongside the first fairway.

There are several other players in the field who also share a love for this golf course.

Darren Fichardt, the winner of the opening tournament on the Rise-Up Series – the Betway Championship – has been playing this course since a teenager and won several amateur titles here.

Jacques Blaauw had multiple top finishes in the years that the Tshwane Open was played at Pretoria Country Club, including shooting a final-round 61 to finish second behind Coetzee in 2015, as well as tied sixth in 2017 and tied 13th in 2018.

Daniel van Tonder, the winner of last week’s African Bank Sunshine Tour Championship, finished fourth in the 2018 Tshwane Open at Pretoria Country Club, while Jaco Ahlers and Jaco van Zyl have also enjoyed top-10 finishes here.

And the big-hitting James Hart du Preez is a member at Pretoria Country Club and will be hopeful of clinching his first Sunshine Tour title on his home course following a 2019 season where he came close with three top-10 finishes.