SA out in force at Open

2011-07-12 12:24

Sandwich - South Africans currently hold half of the titles in major golf and have half a dozen players who are being cited as potential winners this week at the British Open.

In what has turned into a golden era for the country's golfers, Louis Oosthuizen set the ball rolling with his stunning seven-shot win in last year's Open at St Andrews.

His good friend Charl Schwartzel followed up by birdieing the last four holes to win the Masters in April, and the two were tied for ninth place at last month's US Open in Washington.

The 26-year-old Schwartzel has spent the time in between the two national Opens back home in wintry South Africa where his exploits alongside those of Oosthuizen have left their mark.

"I've been to a few golf courses where I've given sort of speeches, a bit of a talk, and there's lots of youngsters out there that all of a sudden have a really big interest. I'm sure it's made a big difference to South African golf," he said.

Schwartzel made his Open debut at Royal St George's the last time it was held on the Kent coastline in 2003 when he briefly led the tournament after three holes, before eventually missing the cut.

To date he has failed to find his best form on the links courses that make up the Open rotation with his best showing in six appearances a tie for 14th behind Oosthuizen at St Andrews last year.

Still he has no qualms with people writing off his chances this week.

"You can make whatever odds you want," he said.

"In a way I've always liked playing as the underdog and then surprise people, but, you know, it is what it is.

"I'm out there to give it my best and see if I can win this golf tournament. Whether my odds are 200-1 or 12-1, it doesn't make no difference to me."

Oosthuizen, two years older at 28, believes he is running into a promising patch of form after a disappointing few months during which time he has tried to play on both the European and US Tours.

He hopes a return to the Open this week as defending champion is something that will accelerate that process and he is hoping the wind will blow as it did last year at St Andrews in a second round that saw him pull ahead of the field.

"I expect wind," he said after playing a practice round at the course on Monday.

"I think you want to play links golf in a nice wind - not 60km/h - but just a nice breeze.

"I don't mind it. I feel I can play a lot more shot-making around the golf course and it's nice to be able to play four or five different type of shots. It's a fun week for me. I enjoy that type of golf.

The South African challenge this week is more than just Oosthuizen and Schwartzel though with 11 players qualified. Tim Clark has had to withdraw, leaving 10 South Africans in the 156-man field.

Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman are both major winners who could very well contend and it would be wrong to write off the man who was the inspiration to his countrymen - Ernie Els.

The 41-year-old, who won the British Open at Muirfield in 2002, has been struggling for form of late and missed the cut at the US Open, but Schwartzel for one believes he will always be a threat in the year's third major.

"I mean, he's won one British Open, he's always been a good links golfer. Maybe his chances are actually pretty good if you take the way he's been playing," he said.

"He's sort of been struggling for some time. If you get into sort of weather like this, you completely forget about all the technical little things that you work on and actually play the game, and he's more than good enough, we all know that, to win these sort of golf tournaments."

South Africans in the field:

Thomas Aiken
George Coetzee
Ernie Els
Retief Goosen
Trevor Immelman
Martin Maritz
Louis Oosthuizen
Rory Sabbatini
Neil Schietekat
Charl Schwartzel


  • Brendan - 2011-07-12 13:00

    Neil should change his surname to Skietbaiearende, and hope he does.

      Rooikat - 2011-07-12 13:18

      As a rooikat, I should prefer that.

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