Harare - Defending champion Lyle Rowe is one of four players who have won the title at Royal Harare Golf Club, and he goes into Thursday’s opening round of the 2017 Zimbabwe Open undercooked, but confident.
Theunis Spangeberg, Chris Swanepoel and Jake Roos have also won in Harare, but Rowe took the title last year with a tournament total of 11-under-par, giving him a two-stroke edge over Dylan Frittelli. And since he finished in a share of 79th in the Tshwane Open on March 5, he hasn’t played a competitive round.
“A long break is a bit of a problem,” said Rowe as he completed a practice round.
“You get a bit ... not complacent, but you get a bit bored in terms of practicing and playing. Sometimes you can get into a bad rut, but you’ve just got to keep doing what you think is good for your preparation.”
For all that, he managed to shoot a five-under-par 67 in Tuesday’s pro-am ahead of the tournament to give himself some confidence.
“I’m playing nicely at the moment,” he said.
“I played well in the pro-am yesterday. I’m rolling the putts quite nicely which is the main thing around this course. The greens are so good, so if you hole putts, you’re going to be up there.”
Most players agree with Rowe about the greens, rating the Royal Harare putting surfaces amongst the best they play on all year.
“The course is in showroom condition as always,” he said.
Like the other three former champions in the field, Rowe is relishing his return to the scene of his victory.
“It’s nice playing practice rounds and kind of reliving some of the old shots - what you hit, what you were feeling at the time. It’s nice to stroll around the fairways,” he said.
The tournament is the start of the 2017/18 Sunshine Tour season, and Rowe brings some decent form into it, particularly from the Dimension Data Pro-Am, where he finished in a share of fifth behind former Open champion Paul Lawrie.
“Dimension Data was a nice finish,” he said.
“I played well on the weekend. It was nice to shoot some low scores on those courses.
“It was nice to have some good finishes at the beginning of the year, but everyone is starting fresh here in Zimbabwe for the new season. It would be nice to get off to a good start. The game is slowly coming together,” he added.
Besides the knowledge that he won in Harare last year, Rowe also takes confidence from the fact that both his Sunshine Tour victories came in events outside South Africa - he won his maiden title in the 2014 Zambia Sugar Open, and he heads back to Lusaka next week for the 2017 edition of that tournament.
“I seem to enjoy these tournaments on the ‘African swing’,” he said.
“It’s just the whole feeling of the events, the way that they’re run and the people who come and support them - it’s nice having people to come and watch and it’s nice to play well in front of them.”
Playing well in front of the Harare crowds would be a good way to start the new season.