The depth of South African golf is clearly evident when defending champion Michiel Bothma highlights a list of players as long as a par five as to who could contend in this week’s Telkom PGA Championship at Country Club Johannesburg.
“Hennie Otto has just come off a great win at Fancourt. James Kingston has had a couple of second-place finishes recently. Thomas Aiken is due a win, and I think he badly wants a haircut. He said he wouldn’t cut his hair until he won. Branden Grace is another strong challenger this week. And there are so many young golfers out there who could challenge,” Bothma said on the eve of Thursday’s first round.
This combined with a course which seems open to low scoring means Bothma is well aware of the challenge he faces.
“The course is in very good condition. I think the greens are a bit slower and the rough is shorter than last year. So I expect the scores to be lower than last year, even though they were pretty low then.”
During Tuesday’s pro-am Bothma showed the signs of a good week of his own, with a round he felt he almost had to reign in to manage his own expectations for the event.
“The pro-am round started off almost too good. I never like scoring too low in the practice round and prefer to save it for the tournament itself. I don’t like going into a tournament with high expectations, and if you shoot a 64 in the pro-am you tend to expect to do that again in the tournament, which is not good.”
Bothma is also pleased to have found a remedy for his back injury.
“It’s getting better every week. I hurt my back in April last year and took two months off, and was really struggling. I’ve been on painkillers ever since. Then two weeks ago I found this magic product, and three days after taking it I never had any pain. So all of a sudden it feels like I can play again.”
If he were to surprise all and claim another victory, it would certainly be keeping with Bothma’s history in this tournament.
In 2002 he won in a playoff with Mark Murless after Murless had called a penalty on himself in regulation play to force the playoff. And last year Bothma himself was surprised by the win.
“It was special, and a bit unexpected. Yes, I had been playing well and everything was building up to a good week. But I didn’t expect it to be that week. But you take it when it comes.”