After a six-month break, the Sunshine Tour will finally start its 2020/2021 season this week with the R600,000 Betway Championship at Killarney Country Club.
Multiple European Tour and Sunshine Tour champion George Coetzee headlines this field of professional golfers, many of whom last played competitively on the Sunshine Tour in February before the national lockdown. They are relishing a return to the fairways in what is also the first tournament in the new Rise-Up Series of five 54-hole events, all played in Gauteng.
After months of hitting golf balls into nets in the back garden, training in home gyms and sharpening their minds with everything from Zoom sessions with sports psychologists to deep introspection about their careers, 107 professional golfers will finally have something to play for when they tee off in Wednesday’s first round.
“I think everybody is very excited. It’s been a long wait,” said Coetzee. “Fortunately we’ve been able to play and practise socially, but it’s not the same as playing competitive golf.
“I’ve stayed busy and played a few money games with some other pros just to try to keep competitive and sharp. I’m not expecting too much from my game. I’ve prepared well but it’s not about the results for me now. It’s more about just getting back into that competitive groove again.”
Fellow professional Jake Roos is just as grateful to be back in action again.
“It’s important for us to be playing again. Though we’ve all done a lot of practice at home, you want to go out and test that in a tournament environment. You can’t just play with your mates for a pie and a Coke and think your game is fine. You want to test it in a tournament where you’re playing for money, especially for those players who have ambitions of getting onto other tours and playing overseas.
“So just the fact that we are competing again is very important.”
It was a common theme among the professionals who gathered for their practice rounds on Tuesday.
“It’s nice to be out here again,” said Jaco Ahlers. “This was the longest break from the game I’ve ever had in my career. Just to be out here again with everybody and not sitting at home is great. I’ve put in a lot of work on my own game, but I suppose the biggest adjustment will be to get your head into that competitive mode again.”
Heinrich Bruiners said he is “so excited just to be able to be competitive again and get those competitive juices flowing”.
Jacques Blaauw was so starved for competitive golf that when SA golf courses were allowed to open again, and before the Sunshine Tour resumed, he arranged a money game with several fellow professionals.
“I did a little Monday dash for cash to get the guys playing some competitive golf again. We played for our own money and it was good fun,” he said.
The field this week also includes young Jayden Schaper, who made headlines as one of SA’s top amateurs when he finished sixth in the SA Open in January. He turned professional thereafter, securing his Tour card with a 10th-place finish at the qualifying school.
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