• A big deal

    SA Open
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    For the fourth time in its long history the South African Open will be held at Randpark Golf Club.

    South African golfer’s CV is never quite complete until he has got his hands on the SA Open title, one of the most revered tournaments in the world, given its longevity and list of former champions.

    On the past three occasions the country’s Open has been staged at this Johannesburg venue, the players have shot the lights out around Firethorn and Bushwillow, the two courses that make up Randpark.

    In 2019 Louis Oosthuizen put together rounds of 62, 70 and a weekend of 67s to win by six shots on 18 under par. Previously, Swede Mathias Gronberg had to get to 14 under to hold off Darren Fichardt, Ricardo Gonzalez and Nick
    Price to claim the famous trophy in 2000. Five years before that, two-time Major champion Retief Goosen won
    the first of his two SA Opens, this time reaching 13 under as he beat Ernie Els by five shots.

    One should therefore expect the winning score for the 2020 instalment to be in red double figures, at least, and a realistic winning shout should be about 15 under. That in itself means some top-quality golf will be played, with plenty of birdies and eagles. The cut in 2019 was made at two-under 140, another indication of what it takes to be competitive at this tournament at this venue.

    Given the event is steeped in such tradition, it stands to reason that it’s so high up on the list of ambitions for every South African golfer.

    ‘I’ve been close in this tournament with a fourth and a second. I definitely want to get over the line with this one,’ said Branden Grace, who finished tie-seventh in 2019. ‘The SA Open means a lot to me because I feel it’s the one that’s missing. I’ve ticked the box of winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge. This is the next one I have to tick. When I’ve done that, I’ve won the big four in South Africa: the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the Joburg Open and the SA Open. This is the win I need,’

    Goosen, the veteran now competing among the 50-plus seniors, said: ‘There is something indescribable about winning your national Open. I was 26 years old when I won my first title and it was one of the proudest moments of my career. Winning two SA Open titles rates right up there with winning two Majors. The SA Open is steeped in history. Some of the greatest players of this country have won it. It’s a great feeling to see your name on that trophy next to players like Bobby Locke and Gary Player.’

    George Coetzee has won four times on the European Tour, including the Joburg Open and twice down the road in Tshwane, but he admitted he’d swap those victories for one SA Open. ‘It’s a big event; obviously you try to approach every event as the same. You try not to make a big deal of it but you don’t always succeed. There’s always a lot of expectation playing in your national Open. You’ve got to just try to play golf and not look too much into what you’re playing for. Then afterwards, if you got the trophy, you can enjoy the moment.’

    For Compleat Golfer playing editor Brandon Stone, it all ended in cheers, then tears before the beers when he triumphed in 2016, at the age of 22.

    ‘I don’t have the vocab to describe how I feel right now,’ he said, choking with emotion at the time. ‘That was the most up-and-down round I’ve ever had in my life. Walking up to the 18th made me think about how the past few years have been up and down, and to pull it through at the end, I can’t describe it,’ he said.

    There is always a large amateur turnout and, for them, being the leading ‘ammie’ is also on the bucket list.

    ‘I dreamed about winning the Freddie Tait Cup since I won my first junior tournament,’ said Jovan Rebula, who
    has also had the distinction of picking up the another big amateur title, the British Amateur.

    ‘It has taken me three tries to do it, and I really had to grind it out,’ Rebula said after his 2019 success. ‘This rates right up there with winning the Amateur Championship. It’s incredibly satisfying to tick another huge box on my bucket list.

    ‘Almost every Major champion and top South African golfer has won the Freddie Tait Cup – Bobby Locke, Trevor Immelman, Charl Schwartzel, Hennie Otto, Branden Grace and Brandon Stone. If winning the SA Open is the ultimate prize for our South African pros, the Freddie Tait is the rite of passage for every South African amateur,’ he added. ‘My uncle [Ernie Els] won it in 1989 and I am so incredibly proud that I’ve kept the family tradition going and added my name to the winner’s list.’

    In 2020 Oosthuizen takes over from Els as host of the tournament and it is an appointment that humbles South Africa’s highest-ranked golfer. ‘As youngsters we dream of being able to play at the SA Open and, once we have achieved that and have reached some kind of high level, we dream about winning the tournament and seeing our name engraved on that famous trophy with all the greats. But to be named as tournament host is just an incredible honour,’ the 37-year-old said.

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