Durban - Ernie Els remembers the 1992 SA Open with fondness as the tournament that kick-started a storied career, and is hoping the 2010 edition will spark a similar golden age.
He tees it up in the 100th playing of the second-oldest open championship in the world at Durban Country Club, where he won his third SA Open title, keen to finish the year off with a fifth national title.
A victory would represent the kind of finish to the year which would underline his regained form in the early part of the year when he won twice on the Florida swing of the PGA Tour.
“It’s a very important tournament for me,” he said. “I’ve won four and I have finished in the top three another eight times.”
But the memories he has of his 1992 win are the ones he is seeking to rekindle: “I won the SA Open back in 1992 and it got me into some events in Europe,” he said. “It got me into the Open Championship where I finished fifth and basically secured my European Tour Card.
“And finishing fifth in the Open got me into the US Open the next year, where I finished seventh which got me into the 1994 US Open which I won.
“So without the 1992 SA Open, I would not have got into all those events and maybe I would not have had the career I’ve had,” he said.
And after a practice round over the 6 157-metre (6 733-yard) Durban Country Club, he was relishing the opportunity to play in the pivotal event again.
“I haven’t played too many the last couple of years just because of the conflict in dates,” he said. “But I just felt it would be the right thing to come to the 100th SA Open and play it, especially on a grand old golf course like Durban Country Club.”
He’s up against someone else who appreciates what the SA Open means to a career: Retief Goosen has two SA Open titles to his credit.
“Funnily enough, both were by beating Ernie down the stretch,” he said. “He was the best player in the field at the time, so it was nice to beat him.”
He has fond memories of the course, too. “It’s nice to be back here in Durban,” he said. “I’ve been coming here since I was a junior.”
But Goosen doesn’t have any victories on the course to look back on. “Timmy Clark has been dominating here,” he laughed. “I think in 2005 when he won, I was in the last group with him and he blew us away.”
While it not that usual to hear of Clark being spoken of as a player who can “blow away” the opposition, his accuracy off the tee is a key to taming Durban Country Club, and his local knowledge ahead of a week during which the wind if forecast to play a role, he’ll be tough to beat.
That’s if he can overcome the determination of Els: “It’s a very important tournament for me,” he said.