South African Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Louis Oosthuizen leads an all-star cast of home-grown talent as the South African Open returns to Johannesburg and the Randpark Golf Club. It will be played on Randpark’s two courses, Firethorn and Bushwillow, and will feature a field of 240 professionals including Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and former champion Brandon Stone. The championship will, for the first time in its history, be a tri-sanctioned championship between the Sunshine Tour, European Tour and Asian Tour.
The South African Open is one of the world’s oldest national open championships in the world, and is one of the principal tournaments on the Sunshine Tour. Since 1997 it has also been co-sanctioned by the European Tour. In December 2018, the event became part of the Open Qualifying Series, giving up to three non-exempt players entry into The Open.
The first formal event was organised in 1903, after a series of exhibition matches that had been held over the preceding 10 years. The championship was initially contested over just 36 holes until 1908, when it was extended to become a 72-hole tournament.
Unsurprisingly, Gary Player is the most successful player in the tournament's history, with 13 victories over four decades between 1956 and 1981. Bobby Locke won nine times, while Sid Brews claimed eight victories.
There have been plenty of home-grown winners over the years, including the likes of Hennie Otto, Tim Clark, James Kingston, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els, but there have also been a lot of international’s winners. One of the most heartwarming of recent victories came in 2017. England’s Graeme Storm had kept hold of his card the previous season by the skin of his teeth and, in all truth, looked like he was washed up. But the shock of coming so close to losing his playing privileges turned out to be the wake-up call Storm required and he played brilliantly to win in 2017. It has also been a happy hunting ground for another Englishman, Andy Sullivan.
It was won in 2014 by Morten Madsen, in 2015 by Andy Sullivan, in 2016 by Brandon Stone, in 2017 by Graeme Storm, in 2018 by Chris Paisley and in 2019 by Louis Oosthuizen.
All eyes will be on Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Stone and Grace - and all for very different reasons. Schwartzel missed most of 2019 through injury and made his competitive return at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December. He admitted that he had fallen out of love with golf and that it had become a chore to drag himself to the driving range and beat balls. But his injury lay-off has renewed his appetite for the game and actually briefly threatened to win the Alfred Dunhill. Most encouraging of all was that his putting stroke - which has always been his weakness - looked solid.
Oosthuizen simply continues to infuriate his followers. He possesses one of the best swings in the game but simply doesn’t win as many tournaments as he should. It is still hard to believe that he has only won a solitary major - the 2010 Open at St Andrews. Stone and Grace both had their own struggles in 2019. It is par for the course with Stone, who has a wonderful technique but is capable of playing like a 28-handicapper on occasion. But Grace’s career had followed a consistently upward curve until last season. There were some encouraging signs at the Alfred Dunhill, and he will hope to start the year as he means to continue - with a victory.
There will also be a significant amateur presence, with the tournament featuring six of South Africa's most promising amateur talents.
“Jayden Schaper, our current number one, will spearhead the challenge at Randpark alongside Casey Jarvis, Martin Vorster, Sam Simpson, Jordan Duminy and Kyle de Beer, who are respectively ranked second to sixth in the GolfRSA Open Amateur Rankings," said South African Golf Association president Naadir Agherdien. "As the custodians of the world’s second oldest Open, we are extremely pleased to offer our amateurs the opportunity to test themselves in a championship of this stature.
"We are so fortunate that we have a great depth of choice amongst our elite amateur golfers in South Africa. The fact that many of them are juniors speak volumes about the standards of coaching, golf academies, the talent management and development programs in this country.
"Although we lose players to the professional ranks at a rate that is more than desirable, we still are able to field top world-class amateur players when needed. SAGA and GolfRSA wish these six amateurs well as they vie for the Freddie Tait Cup and we implore them to grab this opportunity with both hands, as it builds their character and prepares them for their future careers."
The Freddie Tait Cup - awarded to the leading amateur who makes the 36-hole cut - is the hottest ticket item in South African amateur golf and no fewer than 13 Freddie Tait Cup winners have gone on to win the SA Open.
In addition to a number of victories on the local circuit, including the South African Stroke Play Championship, Schaper became the first South African winner of the prestigious Junior Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass in the United States.
South African Open Picks
Branden Grace. Terrific ball striker
Louis Oosthuizen. Best swing in the business
Charl Schwartzel. On the comeback trail
South African Open Fantasy Picks
Branden Grace. Looking to climb rankings again
Louis Oosthuizen. Don’t be surprised if makes a successful title defence
Charl Schwartzel. Has his appetite back again
Brandon Stone. One of golf’s enigmas
Dylan Frittelli. Massively underrated
George Coetzee. Brilliant putter
Erik van Rooyen. What would you give for that rhythm?
Eddie Pepperell. Everybody’s social media favourite
Chris Wood. Really needs to get his act together soon
Justin Harding. Grown in confidence since first win last year
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