Johannesburg - George Coetzee heads into this week’s Joburg Open hoping that this tournament does exactly for him what it’s done for Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace over the past few years.
Coetzee is edging closer to a maiden European Tour title following his second-place finish to Chris Wood in the recent Qatar Masters. It was his third top-10 this season, and the 21st of his career.
“I just want to keep playing well. I’ve been working on a few things and have been improving week after week. It just kind of hasn’t been my week yet. But it’s always nice to play in an event at home, and it would be awesome to win in front of my friends and family,” Coetzee said.
And he heads to the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club having finished tied 14th and tied seventh in the last two years of the Joburg Open, and well aware of the €1.3-million tournament’s ability to define a young player’s career.
Schwartzel’s victory in this event in 2010 carried him to a then career high of 35th on the world rankings. A year later he won the Masters, finished tied ninth in the US Open and tied 12th in the PGA Championship, as well as successfully defending his Joburg Open title.
And in 2012, Branden Grace arrived with a new European Tour card from qualifying school and re-launched his career with a win in this event, teeing off a season in which he would go on to win a further four times worldwide.
“He’s going to win sooner or later,” Henrik Stenson said after he held off Coetzee down the stretch to win the South African Open last year.
The reality is that as one of a host of young South Africans making an impact worldwide, Coetzee may feel his turn has come.
South Africa currently has four players under the age of 30 within the top 50 on the world ranking, including Louis Oosthuizen (fifth), Charl Schwartzel (18th), Branden Grace (29th) and Coetzee (42nd).
And there are more South Africans than any other nationality ranked within the top 11 on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, with Coetzee amongst the five of them.
Coetzee is certainly pleased to call this bunch of players his friends, especially as he prepares for a big few weeks on the road.
In February and March he’ll be playing in two World Golf Championship tournaments in the Accenture Match Play Championship this month and the Cadillac Championship the next. And he’s preparing for the Masters in April.
“I’m trying to get a few other invites into tournaments on the PGA Tour, so let’s see. I’ll be staying with Branden and Louis in America, so I’ll pick their brains a lot. I’m lucky to know guys like Louis, Branden and Charl who’ve won so much,” Coetzee said.