Alfred Dunhill Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
The Alfred Dunhill Championship returns to the magnificent Leopard Creek after the completion of extensive improvements at this stunning course. The tournament, which has become something of a one-man benefit show for Charl Schwartzel, is once again being co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and European Tour.
It was not played last season as Leopard Creek underwent improvements to what has regularly been voted the number one golf course in South Africa, and with its iconic setting bordering the Kruger National Park.
“We are delighted to be going back to Leopard Creek for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, which is one of the flagship tournaments of South African golf,” said Selwyn Nathan, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour. “We are extremely grateful to Johann Rupert for his longstanding support of the Sunshine Tour and the growth of South African golf as a whole at both a professional and development level through his establishment of the South African Golf Development Board.
“I would also like to congratulate Mr Rupert on the improvements made to Leopard Creek. I have had the privilege of playing it, and I am in no doubt that the improvements will set a new benchmark in the game in both the challenge it presents to the professionals as well as its always impeccable conditioning.”
Keith Waters, the Chief Operating Officer of the European Tour, welcomed the return of the Alfred Dunhill Championship to their schedule. “Alfred Dunhill is one of the longest standing sponsors of professional golf on the European Tour, and this is a tournament that remains a highlight for our members. We thank Mr Rupert and Alfred Dunhill for their continued support of professional golf and look forward to returning to Leopard Creek for what is one of the most enjoyable weeks on our global schedule.”
The Alfred Dunhill Championship has an illustrious history with a list of former world number ones, Major winners, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup players having featured in the tournament over the years, including Rory McIlroy, John Daly, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Schwartzel.
History would seem to dictate that we are going to see a home winner. South Africa’s Brandon Stone was the last winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship with his victory in 2017. It was won in 2010 and 2011 by Pablo Martin Benavides, in 2012 by Garth Mulroy in 2013, 2014 and 2016 by Schwartzel and in 2015 by Branden Grace.
The event also finally signals the end of a hectic year, with the European Tour now taking a break until January. Incredibly, Matt Wallace is still going strong. Given the amazing year he has had, it seems that he doesn’t want it to end, but if ever a player must be ready to put his feet up then it is surely the Englishman. Bernd Wiesberger is in exactly the opposite position as he continues his return to action after recovering from a career-threatening wrist injury. He has yet to find his best form and could do with an extended run of tournaments.
Three-time champion Schwartzel has enjoyed a real love affair with Leopard Creek and will seriously fancy his chances of a fourth success here, but he faces a real challenge from a gifted group of fellow South Africans. Grace is in the field and would dearly love to win this title again, but also playing are former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester, Trevor Fisher Jr, Jaco Van Zyl, Thomas Aitken, Darren Fichardt and even Els, who is now readying himself for the Champions Tour.
The Big Easy’s swing hasn’t changed a bit. At the age of 49 he still hits the ball effortlessly and as impressively as he ever did. His struggles on the greens are well documented but he has finally found a way to get the ball in the hole again, and it would be a foolish man or woman who wrote off his chances of adding to his 28 European Tour titles, the last of which came in 2013 when he won the BMW International Open.
Els has inspired a generation of South African golfers, with the likes of Schwartzel, Grace and Oosthuizen all admitting that they sat at home as youngsters watching their hero sweep all before him. He has set a fantastic example and he continues to do so. Even when he was routinely missing 12-inch putts, Els maintained his dignity at all times. He must have been seething inside, but you would never have known it. Hot-headed English players such as Wallace and Tyrrell Hatton could learn a great deal from sitting down with Els, a man who has always been able to eliminate bad shots from his mind in an instant and just focus on the task of playing the next one and trying to repair any damage.
One of those who spent his childhood looking up to Els was Stone, who won at a canter in 2017, defeating fellow South African Richard Sterne by seven shots. He had also won the South African Open but it was the 25-year-old’s success at this year’s Scottish Open that really got people sitting up and taking notice. Stone has a magnificent golf swing and a wonderful temperament and will win many, many tournaments before his career comes to an end. What he has to decide is whether he is content with being a relatively big fish on the European Tour or whether he feels ready to follow in the footsteps of Els, Grace, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel and go and compete with the big boys on the PGA Tour. That he possesses the game to do so it beyond doubt. But he has some consistency issues to resolve. Yes, he won the Scottish Open but he also missed 10 cuts, and world-class golfers don’t do that. The other worry was that apart from that victory, he only managed one other top-10 finish. So he is still very much a work in progress. But when he does finally figure it out, watch him go.
Newly-crowned South African Open champion Oosthuizen is built in a similar way to Els when it comes to temperament. Nothing ever seems to get him down. In fact, there have been times when as an observer you would have wanted to see him show some emotion - any emotion - just to prove that he really does care about what he is doing because those who know him best will tell you that he does care passionately.
Charl Schwartzel. Owns this place
Dylan Frittelli. Another who seems to save his best for the home crowds
Branden Grace. Hugely talented
Charl Schwartzel. Would you bet against him?
Dylan Frittelli. Glorious short-game skills
Branden Grace. Impressive ball striker
Matt Wallace. Looking to sign off with another win
Jaco Van Zyl. Sweet, sweet swinger
Darren Fichardt. Hits the ball a mile
Trevor Fisher Jr. At his best on home soil
Brandon Stone. Seeking some consistency
Thomas Aitken. Showing recent signs of recovery
Louis Oosthuizen. Should win far more often than he does
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