DEFENDING champion Louis Oosthuizen would love to make a successful defence of his South African Open title.
But the 2010 Open Champion will have some serious competition from two more home favourites desperate to lift one of the oldest trophies in golf at Johannesburg’s Randpark GC this week.
Oosthuizen has been at the very top of the game ever since he claimed the Claret Jug at St Andrews.
He achieved another long held ambition when winning his national open for the first time 12 months ago.
With Ernie Els eligibile for the senior circuit since last season, Oosthuizen will now become the flagbearer for a proud golfing nation at the age of just 37… and he will have plenty of support.
While 20-somethings Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Brandon Stone and Erik van Rooyen are making a name for themselves at the start of their careers, experienced heads like Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel continue to compete at the very top in their 30s.
Grace and Schwartzel have 19 European Tour wins between them including a Major Championship and a Rolex Series win – but have yet to lift the trophy at the second oldest open in golf.
And Oosthuizen knows all too well how special ending the long wait for that victory is.
“It means a lot,” Oosthuizen said. “I was wanting to win it for a long time. It’s always nice coming back and just playing it, defending it is very special.
“It was a tournament I was really trying to get to win with all the great champions on there: Ernie, Retief (Goosen), Mr Player, all of them. I wanted to have my name on the trophy.
“It was nice having a big lead at the end there so I could take it all in,” added Louis, who will play alongside Bezuidenhout on the Bushwillow Course, at 8.35am local time, in Thursday’s first round.
The last player to win the South African Open back to back was another South African Major winner Trevor Immelman in 2003 and 2004 – the second victory four years before he claimed a Green Jacket at the Augusta Masters.
Schwartzel – the 2011 Masters winner – secured his seventh top five at this event last season.
But the South African – who claimed the Brabazon Trophy at the English Amateur Strokeplay at Royal Cinque Ports, in Kent 18 years ago as an 17-year-old – saw the rest of his 2019 campaign derailed by a wrist injury.
A top three on his return at the Alfred Dunhill Championship before Christmas showed Charl is close to a full recovery.
And Schwartzel is aching to get over the line at Randpark Golf Club for a ninth European Tour win in South Africa – having won the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopark Creek four times between 2004 and 2015.
“It’s been a quest of mine for quite some time,” said Schwartzel. “I’ve come real close a lot of times, I’ve thrown one or two away, but at least I’ve been up there quite a few times.
“Hopefully I’ll break through. It’ll be a dream come true. As a South African, it’s definitely high on the list.”
Grace won his first European Tour title at the 2012 Joburg Open and has since added the biggest titles in South African golf with the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Dimension Data Pro-Am and the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
And the 31-year-old feels a win this week can complete his set on home soil although three of the last five winners have been English – Sullivan, Graeme Storm (2017) and Chris Paisley (2018), although they all won at Glendower GC.
“This is the one that I’m missing,” Grace said. “This is the one that I need, this is the one that is short for me to win it all in South Africa.
“I’ve been close a few times now so hopefully the time is ticking on for me to put my hands on this one.
“It would mean the world,” added Grace, who will join Van Rooyen and 2015 winner Andy Sullivan in their three-ball, which tees off at 11.55am local time on the Firethorn Course.
The latter will host the weekend’s play after the 240-strong field have played a round on each of the two courses being used this week.