SA golfers look to pounce again
FORM: STONE AND GRACE HOPE TO START SEASON ON A HIGH
Brandon Stone, the 2016 Alfred Dunhill Championship champion, and 2014 winner Branden Grace are both on the comeback trail as the 2020 European Tour season starts at Leopard Creek today.
South Africans have won on nine of the 14 occasions the tournament has been staged at Leopard Creek and both players are comfortable on the course, even though the grass has changed.
Stone finished tied 15th in last year’s tournament, ending 2018 ranked 106th in the world. He is currently 175th after a frustrating year in which he seemingly concentrated more on physical fitness and lost his swing a bit.
Grace was inside the top-50 in the world rankings this time last year, but has dropped to 126th after a difficult year, in which he felt he put too much pressure on himself.
Grace says he is playing for fun at a venue he loves, alongside the southern border of the Kruger National Park.
Stone said at Leopard Creek yesterday: “Golf is a quest for perfection that is never attained. I was just trying to get better.
“I re-evaluated after 2018 and felt that physically I wasn’t where I needed to be. I needed to get stronger and fitter in order to compete with the best. I feel as if [I am at] a nice benchmark where we can focus entirely on golf.
“The emphasis now is more on scoring and it’s starting to pay dividends. My game feels good, I feel at ease, I feel at home here and I’m hoping to get the 2020 season off to a flyer.
“I just love the tee shot and love the way it sets up. It almost feels like Mr Rupert built this course for me. I feel that extra level of good juju because I’ve had success here before.”
Grace said: “It’s been a tough year, but there have been a lot of things I’ve learned and it feels like my game is coming on.
“I think I’ve been trying so hard that I’m putting unnecessary pressure on myself. So now it’s just about enjoying myself.
“It’s always nice to come back to South Africa and just enjoy things a bit again. This year it became more of a job.
“[Here at Leopard Creek] you realise it’s not just about the golf. It’s awesome to be back, enjoying it and taking the most out of what South Africa has got to offer.”
Englishman Eddie Pepperell, the world No 47, is the top player in the field and will be looking to rebound from his disqualification for running out of balls after some unhappy water-trouble in the Turkish Airlines Open.
BACK TO BUSINESS. Charl Schwartzel returns to action after a long injury layoff at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, starting at Leopard Creek today.