South Africa’s George Coetzee and Zander Lombard relived their earliest memories as young golf fans attending their first Nedbank Golf Challenge, as they now prepare to tee it up as established professionals in this week’s historic 40th edition of “Africa’s Major”.
Speaking at the Champion’s Dinner ahead of Thursday’s first round at the Gary Player Country Club, Coetzee recalled his first visit to the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 1998 – the year Tiger Woods teed it up at Sun City and was beaten in a playoff for the title by Nick Price.
“I remember watching Nick Price and Tiger Woods battle it out, and I actually got Price’s ball with his name on it,” said Coetzee, who heads into this week’s tournament as one of the in-form golfers following his victory in last week’s South African PGA Championship.
It was a similar experience for Lombard when he attended his first Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2005. And his retelling of this at the Champion’s Dinner was made all the more special by the fact that the key golfer in his story had just been on stage – Luke Donald. “I actually got Luke Donald’s ball that year that he finished fifth,” he said of the year when the former world number one finished one shot outside the four-man playoff eventually won by Jim Furyk.
Coetzee said that both their experiences represent everything about what makes the Nedbank Golf Challenge such an important tournament for every South African professional.
“You know, Zander had the same sort of experience as me from this event. With us growing up in South Africa and watching this event, you aspired to work hard and become a professional golfer and to hopefully one day play in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
“I grew up as a big Ernie (Els) fan. I even remember disliking Bernhard Langer because he kept on beating Ernie in this event. Then Ernie shot that incredible tournament record of 25 under par, and that was pretty cool. Ernie was an unbelievable player and he inspired so many of us through this event.”
Lombard certainly has big aspirations for this year’s tournament after finishing tied eighth here in 2019.
“It was an amazing experience for me to finish in the top 10 in 2019 and hopefully I can do even better this year,” he said.