Malelane - It will be his third appearance in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, at the start of his second stint on the European Tour, and Italy's Francesco Laporta reckons South Africa should be first choice for professional golfers looking to kickstart their careers.
As he finished his final preparations for this week's tournament at Leopard Creek, he looked back on his earliest experiences after he turned professional in 2013 after earning his card at the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School.
"I made birdie on the last hole in Bloemfontein and that was great," he recalled.
"I believe South Africa is one of the best places in the world to play golf, and the Sunshine Tour is a really tough tour. Other tours need to give more opportunities to South African players to play in Europe, or to play the Challenge Tour, or to go to the United States. Things are really great here. I gained a lot of experience here in South Africa. I learned a lot from those two years here."
He missed the cut in both his previous appearances at Leopard Creek, so he is relishing this opportunity to take his fine form into a place he loves and into the new season on the European Tour.
"I find the course a bit different this time," he said. "They've changed the grass and some of the greens are different. But it's a very nice course. Actually, I remember it as a bit more open, but now I see it's a very tight course. It's going to be a great event. The course looks perfect, in perfect shape. The ball is rolling so well on the greens."
Laporta also has another South African card up his sleeve ahead of the Alfred Dunhill Championship. That would be his caddie Alex Adams.
"He's caddied for me for two years already, and we're going to walk together again this year," he said. "He's a good guy. I met him here in South Africa, and he caddied for me for the first part of the year when I played on the European Tour in 2016. Then we finished 2018 together on the Challenge Tour and then we did the whole of 2019. Now we're heading into 2020 together."
Laporta earned his second shot at playing on the European Tour after a stellar finish to the 2019 Challenge Tour season during which he won the Hainan Open on October 20 and then the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Mallorca on November 10 to top the Challenge Tour rankings and earn his playing privileges on the main tour.
It's a second chance he's determined to use well.
"Actually, when I got my card for the first time, I wasn't that prepared," he said. "I was coming off a bad year, so when I got my card, I don't think I was ready. But I knew I was going to learn a lot, learn a lot from the other players, the good players, and then I could take my experience to the next year. That's how it worked. I took all my experience from that year to the next years on the Challenge Tour, and now I'm back again."
- Sunshine Tour