Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player debutant Christiaan Bezuidenhout is living the dream as he prepares to tee it up in ‘Africa’s Major’ for the first time in his career, in the penultimate Rolex Series event of the 2019 Race to Dubai.
The 25-year-old has had a break-out year on the European Tour in his second full season, with five top ten finishes and a maiden victory at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Foundation in June.
“Every year you try to qualify for the final events, and yeah, I had a special year. Best year of my career so far, so for me, being here is a real bonus. To qualify for this event and to still be in the Top-20 in The Race to Dubai and to give myself a chance to reach my goals at the end of the year that I’ve set for myself, still in play and I’m looking forward to this week.”
In an event with a 39-year history, Bezuidenhout has fond memories of visiting Sun City to watch his heroes and is now looking forward to being on the receiving end of home support.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve seen this event live since I was nine years old coming here with my family. To be here now is a dream come true for me. Every year, this event is a big highlight for all the South Africans golfers and people that like the sport. Just to be thought of is a real honour and it should be a special week.”
One of nine South Africans in the field, Bezuidenhout is joined at Gary Player Country Club by another first-time winner in the 2019 season, Scandinavian Invitation champion Erik van Rooyen, who is currently eighth on the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex after reaching the play-off at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open.
“I’m a little tired, body is a little sore. It’s the end of the year, and especially an event like the Nedbank, it’s a fun event. So you kind of forget about it.
“The game is obviously in great shape. Pity about that one tee shot in the playoff last week, but that’s the nature of the game. Hats off to Tyrrell. He obviously played really well. But my game is right where it needs to be, and it’s in a good place, especially with being home. I know this golf course really well. Got a lot of local support. It’s only looking up.
“It’s narrow. You can tell that Gary (Player) built the course, a lot of them slope left-to-right, so a draw would be preferable. It’s really small greens. Probably some of the smallest greens we play all year. Ball-striking is a premium. He’s someone I’ve always looked up to. He’s an icon in world golf, as you say, so to have his name attached to this, it’s wonderful.”
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The pair are one half of four South Africans who have won European Tour titles this season, with Justin Harding and Louis Oosthuizen also teeing it up on home soil.
After taking last week off, Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick is feeling rested in his pursuit of becoming this year’s Race to Dubai winner. The 2016 Ryder Cup player has four runner-up finishes this season and is sitting fourth on the season-long Rankings, just over 1,000 points behind current leader Bernd Wiesberger.
“I wouldn’t say pressure to win. I would say pressure to contend. I’m fourth on The Race to Dubai and there’s a chance to win The Race to Dubai still. It’s probably the closest I’ve been so far in my career to winning it.
“I’ve not playing as much this year. That’s one thing when Billy (Foster) came on the bag, that’s one thing he stressed. Looking at my schedule in years gone by, I was playing 30, 31, 32 events and this year I think I’m at 28 maybe. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is. It’s an extra week to work on the game. It’s an extra week of rest.
“Even just a week is a big thing. I think that’s been a big difference this year just playing a little bit less and it’s made the difference.”
However, with 1,665 points on offer to the winner, and a first prize of US$2.5million – the highest in European Tour history before next week’s US$3million winner’s cheque at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai – competition is set to be fierce with just two events of the season remaining.