The arrival of top European golfers Caroline Masson and Anne-Lise Caudal at this year’s South African Women’s Open is adding to the growing sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding the return of the country’s premier professional golf tournament to the Ladies European Tour (LET) schedule.
Germany’s Masson, who ranks fourth on the ISPS Handa Order of Merit, and sixth ranked Caudal from France headline a strong international entry of 56 LET players in the field of 84 players scheduled to compete for a total purse of R2.7 million at Selborne Park Golf Club from 13-15 July.
The SA Women’s Open, co-sanctioned by the Women’s Professional Golf Association and Ladies European Tour, is sponsored by the KwaZulu-Natal Province and hosted by Hibiscus Coast.
After a three-week break, a refreshed Masson is hoping the new tournament and venue will help her get the maiden title monkey off her back.
“I had a very good second season last year and just started getting consistent top 10 finishes when I injured my thumb and had to leave the game for four months,” said the 23-year-old, who still finished the season ranked seventh.
“It’s taken me a couple of months to get my game back to a strong competitive level, but I definitely feel I’m close to a breakthrough. We have a very strong field here this week and the South Africans are extra motivated to deliver a home victory.
“It won’t be easy, but I’ve played the course and I really liked what I saw. During my first practice round there was no wind and you could really attack the pins, but today the wind was up and the course really revealed itself. It’s a course that requires a lot of focus and strategy in the wind and I’m really excited to get going.”
Like Masson, Caudal also competed at the 2006 World Amateur Championships in South Africa, but she returned as a professional to compete in four events on the former Ladies African Tour in 2008. She came close to lifting the SA Women’s Open title at Durban Country Club that year, finishing second to Julie Tvede from Denmark.
The Frenchwoman, who won her second LET title at the German Ladies Open this year, is also hoping for success at Selborne.
“I was chasing a top 10 finish on the money list at the start of the season, but since I won in Germany, I’ve moved the goal post,” she said. “Now I’m chasing the number one spot and I’m going all out this week. Another victory will go a long way in getting me closer to the top this early in the season.”
Caudal said the return of the South African Women’s Open to the LET schedule raised a lot of excitement among the LET players.
“All of us who have been here before, we always enjoyed our time out here. I have wonderful memories of my previous visits to South Africa and I am not disappointed. So far, I have been very impressed with the organisation of the tournament and the golf course.
“But I think it would be even better if there could be two or three tournaments. The weather is so great and the courses are fantastic, it would really give us an incentive to travel down here.”
French-born Gwladys Nocera said she looks forward to reviving the magical moments of her golfing career by breaking a four-year title drought in South Africa.
“I’ve come close a few times since I won five times in 2008, but it’s been a while since I’ve lifted a trophy,” said the 10-time LET champion and former money list winner.
“I’ve been practicing hard and getting stronger; my swing feels good and I’m hoping all the work pays off this week, because I am hungry to win again.
“It’s great to have this tournament back on the schedule because it creates another opportunity for us to compete. And it’s great for the South Africans to show their talent at home.”
Five-time Ladies European Tour winner Lee-Anne Pace will lead the home challenge and, in addition to the 71 professionals from 20 countries in this week’s line up, 13 of the country’s leading amateur golfers will compete for the Jackie Mercer Trophy.