This week on The Eurozone, we head to the Republic of South Africa, and one of its three capital cities–Pretoria. Among other reasons, I’m stoked for a South African event this week because it is only 7 hours ahead of the East Coast, which means we are getting closer to the time of year when viewing for we Yanks becomes much easier. I love the land of Oz and the Middle East events are….alright I guess….but trying to watch them live is insane. As the season strolls along, and we get closer to continental Europe taking over the bulk of the schedule, getting to watch live golf on Saturday and Sunday mornings is a real treat. Unfortunately, we also start to see the Euro fields get somewhat watered down as bigger events on the PGA Tour start drawing the dual members.
Bad (or Sick!) Take:
I like the WGC events.
There. I said it.
I don’t like the WGC venues (Austin CC is alright; Chapultepec, Firestone, and Sheshan are meh), but despite their obvious status as “Billy Joe and Bobby Sue” events, there’s something to be said for the ridiculous strength of field and the way the cream always seems to rise on Sunday afternoon. They’re entertaining! And that’s the point!
**Ducks as Tron throws one of the shoes he’s definitely NOT wearing during the live show at my head from across the Killhouse living room**
With that said, another reason I look forward to the WGCs is the fact that there are opposite field events on the PGA and European Tours that give a wide variety of journeymen, rookies, comeback kids, and aging veterans a chance to juice their seasons. Maybe the average golf fan couldn’t give less of a damn about opposite field events, and I get it. But you are not the average golf fan. You’re reading an alternative golf media blog about the European Tour. You might be a sick individual with far too much time on your hands. You’re here for the deep dive. Let’s go to Tshwane.
Shine a light on The Ronnie Bass Tour
The Tshwane Open, played at Pretoria Country Club (Tshwane is the “metropolitan municipality” of which Pretoria is a part), is a relatively recent add to the Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass Tour schedule, having debuted in 2013. Despite its relative youth, and its location on the schedule as an opposite field event, the tournament gets the enviable “co-sanctioned” status with the European Tour, meaning a larger purse, more television exposure, and a better field than the average week on the Sunshine Tour.
Another great thing about the co-sanctioned events in South Africa is that they shine a deserving spotlight on the Rainbow Nation’s golf tour. Moreover, these events tend to produce native South African winners at an astonishing clip. The Tshwane Open’s list of champions highlights this fact beautifully.
Granted, there are a larger number of South Africans entering these events than of any other nationalities. Nonetheless, that list of winners (even in 2014, Danie van Tonder finished runner-up to Fisher) is pretty awesome. One of the underrated things about the European Tour is the opportunity to see players raise their games for tournaments in their home countries or their national opens. Experiencing Rory getting into the zone for the 2016 Irish Open, seeing Francesco Molinari win the Italian Open in 2016 and then nearly defend the title in 2017, and watching the Mechanic make a late-career charge in 2014’s Open de Espana just rustles something inside me. It’s hard to explain. The South Africans rise to the occasion, too.
Globalist Gary’s Gilded Gaggle of Golfers
I cannot get too deep into Gary Player this week, because I need to save it for the ROASTY takes you’ll get on next week’s golf course at the Hero Indian Open. We’re going to get the welding helmet out for that one.
But, putting aside his golf course design philosophies, general Twitter thirstiness, and washboard abs, Gary Player’s legacy is unmatched by nearly everyone to ever pick up a club. Although a comparison to Tiger is always risky and never quite perfect, what Player did to popularize the game around the world–and particularly in his native South Africa–was borderline Tiger-esque.
Player’s persona, presence, longevity, and competitive streak–much like those same attributes in Tiger–inspired a nation to play the game of golf. Somehow, despite a stable of familiar names to even the casual golf fan, I think the golf community as a whole (or at least in the United States) underrates South Africa as golfing powerhouse. Much of this has to do with the substantial number of under-the-radar guys that play on the European and Sunshine Tours full time, decreasing their overall visibility. However, one of the reasons I love writing this column is that I get a chance to correct that! Allow me to introduce you to a couple of these lesser-known South Africans.
How do you say ‘Not-Defending Champion’ in Afrikaans?
“Nie verdedigende kampioen nie” in case you were wondering.
The Nie verdedigende kampioen nie this week is Zimbabwean-born-turned-South African, Dean Burmester. Finishing second to Brandon Stone in the 2017 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit rankings netted Burmester a chance to tee it up at the WGC-Mexico this week. The OWGR-134th ranked stalwart of the South African circuit has had steady, if unassuming, results so far in 2018. Although he has played well on the African continent, Burmester has only mustered a T40 at Abu Dhabi, T22 at Dubai, and a missed cut at the Malaysian Cobra Pit (TM) for his three most recent European Tour sanctioned events.
Last year’s final round of the Tshwane Open, which Burmester won by three strokes, was fueled by his front-nine 29 in the final round, and a cruise-controlled back half that saw Burmester secure full status on the European Tour this year after barely missing out on securing his card at Q-school only a few months prior. Although he will not be defending his title at Pretoria Country Club this week, Burmester will look to make the most of an opportunity to play the PGA Tour/European Tour co-sanctioned event in Mexico City. Given he can just show up, hit one tee shot, and collect about 1/3 of the prize money he took home last year for winning the Tshwane Open, I can’t really blame him for abdicating the title.
65 players in the field for this week's @WGCMexico, meaning last place will pocket a cool $50,500. Thanks for stopping by.
— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) February 26, 2018
**Ducks as Tron, in a murderous rage, throws the other shoe he’s definitely NOT wearing during the live show at my head as I take cover behind the couch**
I’d like to buy a vowel
So with Burmester knee deep in the #toursalsa verde this week, I’d like to direct your attention to a South African actually in the field in Pretoria, Haydn Porteous. If it were up to me, I’d borrow that ‘e’ from Porteous’ last name and fit it snugly right in between that ‘d’ and ‘n’ in his first name. I can only assume that his parents were Johannesburg’s equivalent of Brooklyn hipsters to bestow the spelling of “Haydn” on young Mr. Porteous. But I digress.
Porteous, at 23, is already a two-time winner on the European Tour, with his first win coming in his hometown in 2016 at the Joburg Open. Rounding into some good form at the end of the 2017 campaign, Porteous won the D+D REAL Czech Masters last September. The win netted him €166,660 and some comfort to make his own schedule yet again for 2018.
Thus far in 2018, Porteous has had mixed results. Although he posted a T19 and a T26 in Dubai and Oman, respectively, those solid finishes find themselves nestled between missed cuts in Malaysia and last week in Qatar. Nonetheless, Porteous harbors a beautiful, smooth tempo in his swing. On top of that, he is consistently one of the more reliable putters on Tour, averaging under 1.77 putts per GIR each year of his career. When you watch his putting stroke, it’s easy to see how he fills it up with ease. A long, languid backstroke and a silky smooth release get the ball rolling on line more often than not. A thing of beauty.
I like Porteous to take his velvety move back to the winner’s circle in his native country this week, and expect that it could launch him into another strong run at the Race to Dubai for 2018.
Pretoria Country Club
This week, rather than get steep on the architecture side of things, I elected to do a double player profile. One reason is that Pretoria Country Club has some really interesting interactive layouts, course tours, and hole descriptions on its website. I highly recommend you take a few minutes to look at that if you’re interested in familiarizing yourself with the venue. I plan to have it open on my computer while I watch the coverage this weekend so I can follow along with the holes as they are being played.
As a brief overview, Pretoria CC plays to a par 71 of just over 7000 yards. Still, the course presents itself as one of the more difficult tests in the early season schedule, as many of the holes are narrowly pinched by some truly intimidating bunkering.
As you can see from this photo, many of the bunkers are truly D.A.F./1 shot penalties, and they punctuate a landscape that is home to some pretty heavily undulating but small green complexes. I suspect we’ll see lots of irons off tees this week and playing to position, as a number of the par 4s are under 425 yards, with four such holes playing less than 390.
Next week, we’ll be adding a new feature to The Eurozone. I’m going to start tracking the European Ryder Cup contingent in greater detail, and specifically, I’m going to focus on the players who are would-be Ryder Cup rookies at Le Golf National. My goal is to try my hand at putting together the list of Europeans that are most likely to make the team as rookies, guys who may be dark horses for a spot on Bjorn’s squad, and to accurately predict the captain’s picks as the season goes on. I’m still working out the details, and there is much more to come on this front. Stay tuned!
Golf Channel is manning four full days of coverage this week, starting with 3:30 to 5:30 AM live coverage on March 1-2, with additional live coverage from 7:30 to 10:30 AM.
For Saturday and Sunday, GC will be showing live golf from 5:00 to 9:30 AM.
Coffee Golf! Let’s do it!