Adaptability is the name of the game for defending champion Ross Fisher ahead of the Tshwane Open, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and European Tour, which gets underway at Pretoria Country Club on Thursday.
England’s Fisher won the title last year at The Els Club Copperleaf, which, at 7,964 yards, was the longest course in European Tour history, winning by three strokes from South African Danie van Tonder and Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland.
The Pretoria Country Club layout stretches to just 7,063 yards, and has had the par-five fourth and 18th holes reduced to par-fours, making it a par-70 course. And, with trees, complex bunkering and water at various points around the course, it presents a completely different challenge to the golfers.
“It’s a lot shorter and a lot more fiddly,” said Fisher of the course. “There will be a lot of positional play off the tee, a lot of irons and not many drivers.
“It’s an adaptation that we have to make as players. We don’t generally play these types of golf courses. It’s very different and I would prefer to be on a long golf course that’s quite tight, because driving is my strength.
“It’s going to be different this week. Your wedges will have to be sharp and you’re going to have to get a hot putter, because I can imagine the scoring will be pretty good with some quality players here this week.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge and hopefully the game can live up to that,” he added.
His feeling about the course is something that George Coetzee, who has been a member at Pretoria Country Club for his whole golfing life, echoes, despite his years of experience on it. “I didn’t build my game at this golf course,” he said. “I putted well to shoot good scores here, but it’s a drawer’s golf course. There is a lot of risk and reward and on a lot of holes you can take it on.
“There are some advantages to knowing the course as well as I do, but it suits a certain type of golfer. Hopefully I make enough putts to make up for that.”
Fisher has been paired with Fisher for the opening two rounds, but he didn’t think it would be much help to him to be playing the course with someone so familiar with it. “George is a different player to me,” he said. “We all play our own game. I played 18 holes this morning and I was hitting clubs off tees to see where they would put us. I’m sure we’ll come up with our own game plan. I’m feeling comfortable and confident out there, so I’m looking forward to getting going.”
Fisher is coming off a solid performance in last week’s World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship in the United States, where he finished in a share of 23rd, and recovered from a poor opening 78 in the process.
That will give him the confidence to be aggressive in defence of his title. “I’ll be as aggressive as you can be,” he said. “I don’t think there are many holes were you can hit driver, maybe half a dozen. There’s a few where you probably could take driver, but if you don’t pull it off you’ll be in deep trouble. Strategy is going to play a pivotal role. Position your golf ball well and you’ll have a good week.”