SA golfers look to pounce again

FORM: STONE AND GRACE HOPE TO START SEA­SON ON A HIGH

The Citizen (KZN) - - Sport - Ken Bor­land

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.

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

BACK TO BUSI­NESS. Charl Schwartzel returns to ac­tion af­ter a long in­jury lay­off at the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship, start­ing at Leop­ard Creek today.

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