Friendly, engaging, down-to-earth Wallie Coetsee – the kind of person who relates well to all and sundry and warms to the galleries – is back at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington for this week’s Joburg Open, a tournament that changed his life a year ago when he tied for second behind winner Andy Sullivan from England.
It wasn’t only the cheque for over R1-million that boosted Coetsee’s re-invented career, but his efforts in the tournament as well as the Tshwane Open that followed earned him a much-needed lucrative sponsorship.
“I was coming into the car park at Pretoria Country Club during the Tshwane Open when Sam Hackner and Robin Magid from Investec pulled up alongside me,” 43-year-old Coetsee explained.
“They offered to look after me. I couldn’t believe it. I just started to cry.”
Three and a half years ago Coetsee walked away from a busy, stress-inducing paint contracting business in Tzaneen.
He moved his family to the surfers’ paradise that is Jeffrey’s Bay in search of a simpler lifestyle.
He credits the good golf he began playing after that to the move, and in 2014 he won the Zambia Open – 17 years on from his previous victory in the 1997 Namibia Open.
Then, a year ago, he led both the Joburg Open – played on the club’s East and West courses – and the Tshwane Open before a final round meltdown at Pretoria Country Club saw him plummet down that leaderboard.
“Looking back, though, playing the last nine holes in 42 shots in the Tshwane Open was actually a blessing because I learnt so much from the mistakes I made there and this year I feel I’m in a better position mentally to contend. I’ve set myself a goal of winning three times this year and – for this week – hopefully I can go one better than last year and take the number one spot,” he said Wednesday, ahead of Thursday’s first round.
“I’m peaking at the right moment, I live for the pressure, and I can’t wait to peg it up. The Royal Joburg course suits my eye and when I arrived at the club on Tuesday I felt the same aura that I had here last year. In 2015 I was, by some margin, the straightest driver on the Sunshine Tour, hitting about 84,5 per cent of fairways hit. And I putt well and hit my irons well so I have a lot of positives going for me.”
The stress-free lifestyle in J-Bay, Coetsee insists, is precisely why he’s playing so well. He feels his successful comeback to the game coincided with the move. The family don’t even have a television and his eldest daughter, now a young teenager, isn’t even allowed a cell phone yet. “We love just sitting around the lunch or dinner table and being a family. When we moved, we decided to get rid of the TV. So, as was the case last year, if my young daughters Zoe and Kelly want to watch me on the box, I hope my wife Ashley takes them to a friend’s place!”
Coetsee is on the West Course in Thursday’s first round, teeing off at 8.25 in the company of Justin Harding and American Paul Peterson.