Tshwane Open   

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george1With a quartet of young South Africans on the rise, defending Tshwane Open champion George Coetzee is determined to throw everything into the fray to keep his title when the tournament gets underway on Thursday.

With the action taking place at Pretoria Country Club, where Coetzee learnt his golf and where he is still a member, he will be a tough nut to crack in the event which is co-sanctioned by The European Tour.

“They are making life hard for us,” joked Coetzee about the emergence of BMW South African Open champion Brandon Stone, Joburg Open winner Haydn Porteous, and their respective runners-up Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Zander Lombard. “I’m starting to feel like a senior golfer on tour and I shouldn’t be. I’m still a ‘lightie’ technically. But it’s great for South African golf in general.

“Obviously they just mustn’t come to my home ground and think they are going to take my food off my plate,” he laughed.

Along with Coetzee, Charl Schwartzel, Jaco van Zyl, Keith Horne, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Hennie Otto and Richard Sterne are among the more established ‘older’ South African brigade this week, and they will all be looking to reassert themselves in the face of the challenge presented by the youngsters.

Coetzee is fully recovered from breaking his left fibula in a surfing accident in Bali early in September last year and after four months on the sidelines is playing exceptionally well again. That has showed in his performances since his return in the SA Open: He missed the cut in that event, but a share of 13th in the Joburg Open and a share of seventh in the Commercialbank Qatar Masters showed that his game was back on track.

“I’ve just started hitting the ball great and it’s just getting rid of the mental rust rather now,” he said. “It’s just getting used to being in contention, playing under pressure instead of just getting the ball around because usually after a long layoff you battle just to shoot scores.”

The only negative, he feels, is defending the title on his home course in front of his friends and fellow members. “That puts extra pressure on you because of the expectations. But the positive, on the other hand, is that I know this course so well as I’ve played it so often and obviously that can be an advantage.”

He’ll need to take advantage of any edge he can get, as the course can surrender some really low rounds. Last year, Jacques Blaauw closed with an 11-under 61 to set a stiff target for the followers, but Coetzee is ready for that: “I’ve eagled five of the par-fours on the course, and all the par-fives,” he said. “And that’s in addition to birdies on each of the rest.”

If he can score even remotely like that, it won’t matter how young his challengers are.