IT’S GE­ORGE’S TIME

Even a bro­ken an­kle couldn’t stop GE­ORGE COETZEE from head­ing the Sun­shine Tour Or­der of Merit in 2015.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean

The an­nual Sun­shine Tour re­view. Sto­ries and stats from the 2015 tour.

Ge­orge Coetzee let slip the Sun­shine Tour’s Or­der of Merit ti­tle in 2014, but de­spite a bro­ken an­kle he made no mis­take in 2015, win­ning two co-sanc­tioned tour­na­ments in the rst half of the year to seal his rst Sid Brews Tro­phy suc­cess.

The 29-year-old from Pre­to­ria has been a strong con­tender for the No 1 po­si­tion in re­cent years. He was se­cond to Bran­den Grace in 2012 – the year he was run­ner-up to Hen­rik Sten­son in the SA Open – and in 2014 he was third on the Or­der of Merit, de­spite win­ning R3-mil­lion at the Joburg Open.

This year he wasn’t in con­tention at Royal Jo­han­nes­burg & Kens­ing­ton, but in March the Tsh­wane Open was be­ing played at his home course, Pre­to­ria CC. He took rm con­trol with four rounds in the 60s, in­clud­ing a clos­ing 65, and nar­rowly won by one shot. Two months later he won a playo in the rst Mau­ri­tius Open to be part of the Sun­shine Tour. The com­bined cheques of nearly R5.2-mil­lion put him far ahead of any­one else on the Or­der of Merit, and the sea­son was just four months old.

But the Mau­ri­tius out­ing was to be the last tour­na­ment Coetzee was to play at “home” dur­ing the year. In Au­gust he broke his left an­kle while sur ng in Bali, and he didn’t play tour­na­ment golf for the rest of the year.

The ac­ci­dent might well have ended his hopes of win­ning the Or­der of Merit, but for the fact that the Sun­shine Tour had re­duced the num­ber of tour­na­ments needed to be el­i­gi­ble for the 2015 Or­der of Merit, from eight to seven. Coetzee had played the req­ui­site seven, and all he could do was wait and see if any­one could catch him in the

nal co-sanc­tioned tour­na­ment of the year, the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship.

Win­ning at Leop­ard Creek was worth R3.2-mil­lion, so three play­ers, Trevor Fisher, Jac­ques Blaauw and Dean Burmester, could have over­taken Coetzee on the Or­der of Merit if they were to have won the Dun­hill.That sce­nario vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared on day two when Charl Schwartzel claimed a veshot lead with open­ing rounds of 66-67. Schwartzel is sel­dom beaten at Leop­ard Creek, and he won his fourth ti­tle there.

That vic­tory was pop­u­lar with Coetzee, who be­came the ninth di er­ent win­ner of the Sid BrewsTro­phy in the last 10 years (see box on Page 63).

How­ever, Schwartzel win­ning did prove un­for­tu­nate for Blaauw, be­cause it meant that Schwartzel leapfrogged him into se­cond place on the Or­der of Merit. Fin­ish­ing se­cond on the Or­der of Merit does open up lu­cra­tive in­vi­ta­tions to var­i­ous top in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments (which Schwartzel al­ready en­joys as a world top-50 player), and Blaauw could have done with those to fur­ther his promis­ing ca­reer. He does not yet have a Euro­pean Tour card.

The 29-year-old from Paarl

nev­er­the­less had his best year on the Sun­shine Tour, earn­ing just over R3 mil­lion to take third place. That was more than the to­tal prize­money he had banked in his six pre­vi­ous sea­sons on tour. His pre­vi­ous best OM

nish, in 2014, was 21st with R817 000. Blaauw has had three wins, all in 2013.

Blaauw es­sen­tially owed his break­through sea­son to one spe­cial round at Pre­to­ria CC in the Tsh­wane Open. In the

nal round on the Sun­day he teed o at 10.37, al­most two hours ahead of the lead­ing group, and pro­ceeded to make 9 birdies and 9 pars for a 61 that com­fort­ably gave him the club­house lead on 13-un­der. For a long time he was tied for the lead with Coetzee, un­til the lo­cal boy birdied the 17th to break the dead­lock and rel­e­gate Blaauw to se­cond place.A cheque for R2.13-mil­lion was am­ple con­so­la­tion though. It’s not of­ten that rook­ies win tour­na­ments in their rst year on the Sun­shine Tour – the last one was Ruan de Smidt in 2012 – so Rourke van der Spuy fully de­served the Bobby Locke Tro­phy at the end of 2015 for be­ing the Rookie of theYear.

This young man from Dur­ban was one of the older rook­ies on tour, hav­ing been 25 when he earned his card with a fourth place nish at Q School in Jan­uary 2015, but his ex­pe­ri­ence prob­a­bly worked in his favour as the pres­sure mounted for him later in the year.

The rst eight months of the year proved try­ing for Van der Spuy, as he made just three cuts and had only earned R60 000. But from Septem­ber to Novem­ber he made 10 con­sec­u­tive cuts, earn­ing nearly R300 000 in that time, and over­took the clear favourite for Rookie of the Year hon­ours, Zan­der Lombard.

Van der Spuy’s vic­tory came in the Fish River Sun Chal­lenge in Oc­to­ber, a tour­na­ment short­ened to 36 holes be­cause of high winds the one day. He fol­lowed up an open­ing 65 with a 67 to win by one. Five birdies in his nal nine holes clinched the ti­tle. A month ear­lier he had been in a good po­si­tion to win the Sun Wind­mill Chal­lenge at Bloem­fontein. The 36-hole leader, he got to 15-un­der early in the nal round,but then made ve bo­geys and nished fourth. Van der Spuy took the de­ci­sion to at­tend an Amer­i­can col­lege af­ter school, hence his older age rel­a­tive to other rook­ies who stayed in South Africa. He stud­ied for a busi­ness man­age­ment de­gree at Colum­bus State in Ge­or­gia, and was for­tu­nate to have for­mer South African Mark Im­mel­man as his golf coach.

The Rookie of the Year race came down to the wire. Lombard, 20, a big star at am­a­teur level, was lead­ing the race un­til he missed the cut in the Cape Town Open in Novem­ber.Van der Spuy had a rea­son­able week, and a cheque for R10 000 moved him ahead of Lombard. By virtue of his vic­tory at Fish River,Van der Spuy was then ex­empt into the nal tour­na­ment, the Al­fred Dun­hill Chal­lenge, while Lombard had to pre-qual­ify. A 69 at Irene wasn’t good enough to clinch one of the 10 qual­i­fy­ing spots.

“It feels good to know my name is go­ing to be on the Bobby Locke Tro­phy,” said Van der Spuy. “It was a goal at the be­gin­ning of the year, but I tried not to think about it too much be­cause I had to take care of the golf.”

Jac­ques Blaauw (le ) and Mer­rick Brem­ner.

Ge­orge Coetzee.

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