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