EKURHULENI (14 November 2012) – As Hennie Otto walked into the clubhouse amit the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate on Wednesday, the South African Open trophy was on display. Not that Otto wouldn’t know what it looks like though, because for the past year he’s stared at it almost every day.
After his emotional victory here last year, Otto took the official photograph of him on the 18th green with the trophy and his family, and used it as the screensaver on his laptop. And he never gets tired of that photo.
“I mean, look at the names on that trophy. You can talk about those names forever. The history that’s on that trophy, it’s unbelievable,” Otto said on Wednesday. “Now your name is engraved on there, and nobody can take that away from you.”
It speaks volumes for the respect Otto has for his national Open that as a winner of 12 tournaments on the Sunshine Tour, two on the European Tour, and a top 10 finish in the 2003 Open Championship, he would chose his SA Open photo as his screensaver.
Otto knows exactly the challenge of trying to defend his title against a field including Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace. Winning one SA Open has also given him even greater respect for Gary Player’s record 13 titles. The next best to that is nine, by none other than Bobby Locke. Even a man as talented as Ernie Els has managed five titles to date. These are the names on the trophy Otto is referring to.
Names are significant to Otto, from the great golfers in whose footsteps he’s now walked, to even the name of his farm.
Years ago, Otto purchased his farm near Jacobsdal in the Free State. As a reborn Christian, he named it Ebenhezer, meaning “Stone or Rock of Help”. He dedicated his 2011 victory to his newfound faith, and donated a portion of his prizemoney to charity.
The name Magersfontein also holds significance for Otto, and strangely enough has ties with the SA Open as well. His farm lies near this iconic Afrikaner town. It was here that a legendary battle took place between the Boers and the British during the Anglo-Boer War. Otto has done a lot to help develop the Magersfontein Golf Club. But it was here where legendary Scottish golfer Freddie Tait, after whom the trophy for the leading amateur in the SA Open is named, was one of the few defeated British soldiers to escape with his life. In 1997, Otto won the Freddie Tait Cup as the leading amateur in the SA Open that year.
It is with these names and memories in his head that Otto and his caddie Dean van Staden went out for a practice round at Serengeti earlier this week.
Otto is a man who speaks when he has something to say, and Van Staden is a man who uses words like today’s professionals use a one iron – rarely.
But there were a few occasions when they did talk. “Dean would say to me, ‘Remember this putt we had here in last year’s SA Open, or this shot we hit. It’s good to be back here with those memories.”