Joburg Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
WITH the cream of the European Tour now putting their feet up for what remains of the 2017, the Joburg Open represents a terrific opportunity for the best of South Africa’s young golfers to claim a two-year exemption with a victory.
South African golf is in great shape right now, with the likes of Dylan Frittelli, Darren Fichardt and Dean Burmester all showing that they can compete with the very best in recent weeks. When you add Haydn Porteous, George Coetzee, Jaco Van Zyl and Thomas Aiken to the mix, and then throw in Louis Oosthuizen for good measure then you can see that the future of golf in the republic is in a very healthy state.
Fichardt won the tournament when it was staged at the beginning of the year, and will fancy his chances of retaining the title. It was won in 2016 by Porteous, in 2015 by Andy Sullivan, in 2014 by George Coetzee, in 2013 by Richard Sterne, in 2012 by Branden Grace and in 2011 by Charl Schwartzel, who was also the champion in 2010.
Oosthuizen is the class act in the field, particularly in the absence of Schwartzel and Grace. The 2010 Open champion is one of the best swingers of a golf club in the world, but would admit that he has underachieved despite the fact that he is one of a select group of players to have finished runner-up in all four majors, the latest being his second place at this year’s US PGA Championship. He has won seven times on the Sunshine Tour and eight times on the European Tour but has yet to break his duck in the United States. His last victory came at the Perth International almost two years ago. It is widely forgotten that Oosthuizen lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson at The Masters in 2012 when the left-hander produced that outrageous hooked wedge shot in the playoff, and he also lost a playoff to Zach Johnson in The Open at St Andrews in 2015.
Frittelli is the form horse. He won the Mauritius Open last week, finished fourth at the Dubai World Tour Championship, won the Lyoness Open and finished second in both the Turkish Airlines Open and Volvo China Open. Frittelli, 27, is an impressive specimen. He is 6ft 3in, and although he hits the ball a country mile he finds plenty of fairways and is a genius from the sand, like so many of his fellow countrymen.
Porteous has been tipped by many to be the next big thing from South Africa. It is a surprise that his world ranking stands as low as 175 for he is a much better player than that, achieving his second European Tour victory in 2017. He is a frustrating player. Porteous has a glorious golf swing but is his own worst critic and at times he is too hard on himself. He is one of those golfers who either seems to play brilliantly or cannot hit a barn door. He began last season with six missed cuts and missed a further eight cuts during the season. Apart from his victory at the Czech Masters, he managed to achieve only one other top-10 finish – a tie for sixth at the Made in Denmark the previous week.
The 23-year-old clearly possesses a huge amount of potential, but needs to find a way to produce more consistent results if he is to live up to his enormous promise.
Fichardt is not a big man and does not hit the ball terribly far, but he is one of the straightest hitters on tour and possesses the touch of an angel on the greens. He is particularly at home on the grainy putting surfaces that are part and parcel of golf in South Africa. He attributed his victory here to his short game and will return to Johannesburg with his confidence sky-high after finishing in a tie for sixth at the recent Nedbank Challenge. Fichardt is 42 and has five wins on the European Tour to his credit. He should not be underestimated.
And then there is Burmester, a 28-year-old who celebrated his maiden tournament victory at the Tshwane Open. He loves playing on home soil. Apart from his win, he finished fourth at the South African Open in January and 11th in this tournament. In all, he had six top-10 finishes, including a magnificent fourth at the Dubai World Tour Championship.
Coetzee continues to be something of an enigma. He is one of the best ball strikers in the business and is also a wonderful putter but his pitching and chipping consistently let him down, to the extent that if he can get a putter to the ball he will always do so rather than pull a wedge from his golf bag. He has worked tirelessly in an effort to put things right, and this past year has seen an improvement. But this is a golfer who should win two or three times a season, every season.
History suggests that the winner will be South African, but there are a few Europeans who may have something to say about that. Look out for Challenge Tour graduates Oliver Farr, Chase Kopeka and Tapio Pulkkanen, and it would be a surprise if James Morrison, Ashley Chesters and Ashun Wu did not figure.
To Win: Louis Oosthuizen. Ooozes class
Each Way: Dylan Frittelli. Hits the ball a mile
Each Way: Dean Burmester. Loves playing on home soil
Louis Oosthuizen. Ready for another win
Dylan Frittelli. The form horse
Dean Burmester. Seeking another home win
Tapio Pulkkanen. Just finished fabulous season on Challenge Tour
George Coetzee. Too good to keep struggling
Haydn Porteous. Looking for consistency
Chase Koepka. Looking to emulate brother Brooks
Oliver Farr. Challenge Tour graduate
Darren Fichardt. Defending champion
Jaco Van Zyl. Wonderful tempo
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Tags: european tour