Anton Haig has achieved success across the globe, but returns to South Africa this week looking to hone his game at Roodepoort Country Club, which hosts the season-opener for the Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage.
The 2007 Johnnie Walker Championship winner has played on every major tour in the world, but felt that practice is never as useful as tournament experience. For that reason he has returned to keep his game on top form by competing in the two rounds at Roodepoort.
And that is the exact purpose of the Big Easy Tour. Young rookies looking for tournament experience and experienced pros looking to rekindle their game have the chance to tee up and compete at Big Easy tournaments, and in so doing they keep the competitive edge.
Haig has seen the highs and lows of professional golf, and just last year finished 15th at the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He also missed a full Sunshine Tour card at Qualifying School, but finished in the top 60 and qualified for the Big Easy Tour. After a spell on the Asian Tour he’s returned to develop his game.
Many players who qualify to play Sunshine Tour events are forced to go through pre-qualifying rounds, which offer up just 10 tournament spots and leave plenty of players empty handed. For that reason the Big Easy Tour was introduced, and it offers players the chance to compete regularly through the winter months.
The tour comprises 11 tournaments, which each carry a R100,000 prize fund and span a 36-hole competition. At the close of these 11 events the top 30 on the Order of Merit qualify for the Tour Championship, which is worth R250,000. The winner of the Tour Championship will also receive a full exemption for the 2014 Sunshine Tour season.
Players finishing anywhere from 71 to 157 on the 2012 final Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, the top 30 from the 2012 Big Easy Tour Order of Merit and any former Big Easy Tour champions qualify to play on the 2013 Big Easy Tour. Likewise the top 60 and ties from Qualifying School and the top 30 and ties from Vusi Ngubeni Qualifying School are eligible. The final players who qualify for the 2013 season are affiliate members who have played on the Sunshine Tour.
No player who finished within the top 70 on the 2012 final Sunshine Tour Order of Merit qualifies to play on the Big Easy Tour.
The development tour has produced the likes of Bryce Easton, who finished second at the Asian Tour’s $750,000 Chiangmai Classic a fortnight ago. Prior to his success abroad, Easton came through the ranks of the Big Easy Tour and went on to win twice on the Sunshine Tour.
Fellow graduates of the Big Easy Tour include Teboho Sefatsa, who won the Sunshine Tour’s 2012 BMG Classic within a month of taking the Big Easy Tour Order of Merit.
Zimbabwe’s Ryan Cairns displayed similar success when he won the 2012 Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Simola Golf Estate. It was no coincidence that a fortnight prior to his victory he had won the Big Easy Tour Observatory tournament.
With its third season due to begin on Tuesday morning, the Big Easy Tour looked as healthy as ever. The field consists of 112 players this week and certainly provides the competitive environment that tomorrow’s stars need in order to keep their game sharp enough for the world stage.