Louis Oosthuizen‚ Branden Grace and Ernie Els will lead South Africa’s challenge at the 145th Open Championship‚ which tees off at Royal Troon on Scotland’s west coast on Thursday.
Oosthuizen and Els have won three Opens between them‚ while Grace is turning into a consistently tough competitor in major championships.
Troon has hosted the Open nine times since 1923 and the last six Opens at the venue have resulted in victories for Americans.
The last time a non-American won the Open at Troon was in 1950 – and the victor was SA’s own Bobby Locke.
The course itself is not long by modern standards but it’s protection comes from the prevailing northwest wind that whips off the Firth of Clyde. Very little has changed at the course in 66 years since Locke took the title with a nine-under 279.
It played as a par-72 then and is now a par-71 and only about 150m longer. Oosthuizen‚ having grown up playing at the difficult and windy Albertinia Golf Club near Mossel Bay‚ understands how to shape the ball in a breeze.
Els‚ Oosthuizen and Grace are only three of nine South Africans in the field‚ which also includes Charl Schwartzel‚ George Coetzee‚ Richard Sterne‚ Brandon Stone‚ Haydn Porteous and Zander Lombard.
The wind at the Ayshire links will test players’ temperament and besides hitting great shots in trying conditions‚ players will need to make the most of conditions if they are benign at any stage.
“It takes a lot of patience‚ a bit of the luck of the draw on the first two days – I hope we’re getting good weather‚” Oosthuizen told the media.
“But it’s just finding your way around a golf course‚ depending on what the weather is like. The Open Championship is all about weather. I played the back nine on Tuesday‚ and it was perfect out there. Then you can score low. You can make birdies and you can make good scores. But you can have days like Monday with that strong wind‚ it changes the golf course quite a lot.
“With the prevailing wind the way they say it will be‚ the front nine is your scoring nine‚ and then hold on to a good score on the back nine.
“It all depends on how strong the wind is‚ but the back nine is tough. Most of the shots are with the wind‚ into your face and it’s playing long so you’re going to have to play really well to have opportunities for birdies. You’ll take pars coming in.
“I lift my spirits and my game for this tournament.”
Els‚ who lost a play-off to the unknown Todd Hamilton the last time the Open was played at Troon in 2004‚ knows what it takes to win on links courses after two titles at Muirfield in 2002 and Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2012.
Even though a dozen years has passed from that agonising four-hole play-off loss to Hamilton‚ time has not dulled the pain Els still feels at missing out.
“I got so close and to come away with nothing was bitterly disappointing‚” Els said.
“But looking back‚ I feel there was a lot to be proud of in my performance that week. I broke 70 all four days‚ shooting 10-under par on one of the game’s most challenging courses‚ and I’d tied for the Open. It didn’t go my way‚ but I gave it my best shot and hats off to Todd on his win.”
While there is reason to be optimistic about SA golfers’ chances‚ the form of players such as US Open winner Dustin Johnson and world number one Jason Day suggests that they at least start the tournament as favourites.
– TMG Digital