One of South Africa’s shining talents is putting things together 1% at a time, writes MICHAEL VLISMAS.
In a game where the golden rule is to ‘always keep your eye on the ball’, it is often things taking place ‘off the ball’ that determine success. For the past three years, Zander Lombard has been meticulously building a team outside the ropes that is now translating into success inside the ropes.
After a good finish to the end of 2021 with his second place at the shortened Joburg Open that secured him a spot at The Open Championship this year, Lombard has started 2022 well with tie-third finishes at the DP World Tour’s Ras Al Khaimah Classic and at the Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour co-sanctioned Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open. It’s early days in the season, but in mid-March he was 20th on the DP World Tour rankings and well on track to achieving his main goal for this year.
‘I want to get into the DP World Tour Championship. My card is semi-secured so I’m not too worried about that. I’m just focused on getting the wins now. And I’d like to see where this form takes me. I’ll play as much as I can and hopefully I can keep up these great results,’ he said while strolling around Pecanwood Golf Club. He was looking more relaxed than ever on a course he last played competitively as an amateur, preparing for South Africa’s latest DP World Tour event – the MyGolfLife Open. He seems to have found what works for him.
This in itself has been a significant process for Lombard, and one he’s been working on since 2018. At the time, he said, ‘I took a big step back and looked at how I train and work, and started putting more structure to it. I looked at developing a proper structure when I practise. I wanted to practise more with a purpose and a reason, and not just stand there hitting balls. I took six months to work on it and I started trusting it more.
‘I was determined that the changes I made were going to last me throughout my career. You know, you can easily get a quick fix in this game. Sometimes you do something out on the course to just get your round back on track. But it’s my opinion that the changes that take long to make and are a bit hard to go through are the ones that last. It sounds like such a cliche, but it’s about focusing on making those one-percenters better.’
Then in February this year, when he was in contention at the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open, he again made reference to these one-percenters.
‘It’s just about ticking boxes. I’m focused on ticking off every part of the game. I used to tend to fall into the trap that when something was broken I would just focus on that and forget about the rest of my game. So, if you’re working only on your driver, the rest of your game struggles. My focus has been to become more solid throughout the golf bag, and it’s paid off,’ he says.
It does indeed look like the process to ‘lay a good foundation for the rest of my career’ is starting to bear fruit. It has much to do with his relationships off the golf course and the team he has around him.
‘A lot happened during the Covid-19 lockdown and I had plenty of time to focus on my life outside golf. I’m really happy off the golf course and I think that’s a big part of being relaxed and happy on the course,’ he says.
And it begins with his wife Kelsy.
‘This month will be the one-year anniversary of our marriage. It’s been really exciting. I keep making the joke with my friends that since we’ve been married we’ve been adulting better. There’s a time in your life you need to start growing up and I like to think I have.
‘But overall, it’s been a really good couple of years of building relationships off the course and getting settled in all aspects of my life. I think that’s contributed to the calmness and confidence and maturity on the course.
‘I’ve built a great team around me and they all bring their part to the different facets of my game. It just seems to all be clicking together. My golf is in a good spot. Everything is solid. I’m putting well, my short game’s good, my irons are good and my driver’s good so there’s nothing to complain about.’
Lombard’s talent was never in doubt. At school he excelled in tennis and golf and was a South African Schools athlete in sprinting and javelin. He achieved at the highest level of South African amateur golf. And now, with a few seasons on Tour under his belt, there is a sense that he’s putting the pieces of his puzzle together quite nicely.
‘I’ve stuck to routines and processes that make me comfortable on the golf course. For me that’s almost more important than the actual practice. It’s that frame of mind you put yourself in when you’re practising and when you’re playing, and I like to think I’ve found that sweet spot to be able to compete.
‘It’s a personal process for each player. We’re all different, and that extends to what we want in a coach or a physical trainer or a sports psychologist. I feel like I’ve been playing golf for long enough that I don’t need somebody to tell me what to do, but rather to guide me or remind me about things that I forget to do.
‘The team is there to give me that confidence that I am doing it the right way. If I’m struggling with something I can break it down with them. Sometimes I know what needs to be improved, but I don’t know how to do it. That’s where I bank on my team’s support.’
For the technical aspects of his game, Lombard works with Grant Veenstra and short-game specialist Emile Steinmann. ‘Grant took me back to how I swung as an amateur, namely a little more compact and more rotational. He’s helped me with swinging more within myself and my body structure, and working with how my limitations can deliver the golf club. And Emile is a short-game genius.’
And for Lombard’s body and mind, he’s also gone back to what worked for him in his amateur days.
‘I learn through trial and error. So I’ve gone back to the physical trainer I had when I was a junior – Garth Milne. And I’ve got a history with Theo Bezuidenhout, my psychologist of 15 years. It’s a solid team around me now. They all work well together and keep each other well informed. They’re a tight group and they feel like family to me. That works for me. That soundboard you can bank on.
‘As the saying goes, if you focus on the one-percenters and get enough of those right, they all add up at the end of the day.’
And a win in 2022 would certainly make for a very nice report card of 100%.
TOP 20 BEST PERFORMANCES
2015: Australian PGA Championship (T4th)
2016: Joburg Open (2nd), Lyoness Open (5th), Cape Town Open (T4th), SA Open (T12th)
2017: The Rocco Forte Open (2nd), European Open (T5th)
2018: Alfred Dunhill Championship (T3rd), Vodacom Origins Of Golf – Zebula (1st), Irish Open (T6th)
2019: Cape Town Open (2nd), Nedbank Golf Challenge (T8th), Irish Open (T9th), Mutuactivos Open de Espana (T7th), Saudi International (T18th), Turkish Airlines Open (T17th)
2020: WGC-Mexico Championship (T26th)
2021: Joburg Open (2nd)
2022: Ras Al Khaimah Classic (T3rd), Cape Town Open (T3rd)
– This article first appeared in the April 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!