He missed out on getting a ‘real’ job in May, and Charl Coetzee was pleased he did after he fired a career-low eight-under-par 64 on Thursday to lead the first round of the R700,000 Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Simola Golf and Country Estate.
He made nine birdies and dropped just one shot to have a one-stroke edge over England’s Toby Tree, who celebrated his return to South Africa with an impressive seven-under 65. Vaughn Groenewald, who won just last month at Arabella, carded a six-under 66 to be very much in the mix himself.
‘I think maybe “missing the cut” when I didn’t get that job after making the shortlist made me realise how lucky I am to play golf for a living,” said Coetzee, “and that freed me up to play the kind of golf I know I can play.’
And that freedom was nowhere more evident than in his opening nine – his round started on the 10th – as he made six birdies, including five in a row from the 12th to the 16th.
‘I just hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens, I hit a couple of shots nice and close,’ he said. ‘I played the par-fives well and hit a couple of good putts.’
When a player has gone through the lows Coetzee has faced, he will often be almost too scared to believe it when he starts playing that well. Not so for him. ‘I had got to a point with my golf where I accepted that what was happening was just going to have to happen. I’ve been to some deep, dark places, but I still love playing. So I was actually okay all day.’
To be okay, he had to change the way he was trying to drag himself out of the slump which saw him have his best year as a professional in 2013 when he finished 13th on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, and his worst in 2016 which sees him in 135th spot with nine missed cuts.
‘It’s just about finding my own rhythm, not thinking about the swing too much,’ he said. ‘It’s just about swinging the club the way I know instead of thinking how to swing it. I had got to a space where I tried to play ‘machine golf’, and in working so hard on the swing, the short game went down and it was just a downward spiral from there.
‘So just trusting what I’m doing, or what I’m wanting to do is pretty much all that’s going on now,’ he added.
For Tree, who had a top-10 in the Dimension Data Pro-Am, and was bemoaning his fate in Europe on Twitter barely a month ago, South Africa seems to provide some sort of inspiration. “I just love being here,” he said. “The outdoor lifestyle, everyone’s friendly, the golf courses are good, the wine’s good… I love it here!”
Almost as much as Coetzee loves being at Simola: ‘I love it! It’s absolutely amazing – the views down here, the course is in great nick… And I’ve had a couple of good finishes, so I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.’