Sterne aims at SA Open repeat
Cape Town - Richard Sterne has set his sights on becoming the first back-to-back winner of the South African Open Championship since Trevor Immelman in 2003/04, when he defends his title in the 99th edition of the second oldest national Open at Pearl Valley Golf Estates from December 17-20.
Sterne will anchor a superb cast of young stars in the quest to again win one of the most coveted titles in South African golf.
"Winning the South African Open Championship last year was a defining moment in my career," said Sterne, whose victory capped a summer of back-to-back victories when he edged out Northern Ireland's Gareth Maybin at the first extra hole.
"For most of us the Majors are our biggest focus, but for me personally, it has always been a dream and a goal to win our national Open."
In 2004, Immelman became only the seventh golfer in the history of the South African Open to successfully defend his title with a three-stroke victory at Erinvale Golf Club.
Sterne added that while watching Immelman's triumph, and others when he was younger, he always imagined it would be a defining moment of his career to stand in front of a South African gallery as the winner of the South African Open.
"It was exactly as I imagined. When I watched James (Kingston) win in 2007 and I saw the tears running down his cheeks at the prize giving, I wondered if I would feel the same.
"I wondered if winning the South African Open would reduce me to tears, and it did.
"There is definitely something different about a South African Open victory.
"As a young South African golfer, it's one of the most prestigious titles you can win.
"It's almost unbelievable to see your name engraved on that trophy alongside names such as Brews, Locke and Player - they were the pioneers of South African golf.
"And players such as Mark McNulty, David Frost, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen - Tim (Clark), Trevor (Immelman) and myself grew up watching them.
"They were our role models, and to see your name their alongside theirs, it's an incredible feeling."
Sterne still recalls every exhilarating moment of that final round in 2008, when he closed with a 66 for a total of 14-under-par 274, and Maybin missed his putt on the final hole to take the tournament to a playoff.
"Even if we had gone back to the 18th for a second time, I believe I still would have won. I wanted it so much at that point I don't think anything could have stopped me," said the 28-year-old, whose victory saw him finish the season top of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and inside the top 50 on the world rankings.
This season has been a challenge for Sterne, who not only had to fit getting married into his schedule, but also had to contend with a string of injuries that has left him eager to turn things around at Pearl Valley Golf Estates in December.
"It was a disappointing season for me, no real standout results," said the five-time European Tour winner.
"But I hope to draw on the memories of last year to lift myself back into contention. Pearl Valley Golf Estates is an incredibly tough course.
"It requires all the shots. You have to move the ball left to right, right to left. You need to hit it long, you need to hit it straight, you need to putt well.
"It also has some tough greens. So it takes absolutely everything to win there, and I'm hoping to find all of that again."