Coetzee celebrates birthday and shows world what he can do

He turns 25 today, he’s won four events on the Sunshine Tour, and when he took the Telkom PGA Championship this year, George Coetzee seemed to have taken a step up onto the big stage.

After all, he was following in the footsteps of Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion who had won it so handsomely two years in a row in 2007 and 2008.

He’d even gone within one stroke of Oosthuizen’s extraordinary record 28-under-par win from 2008 with his 27-under-par total.

It was an event that was a quantum leap higher up the golf food chain than his previous three victories. But he seemed to be battling to play from that kind of platform as he launched his European Tour 2011 campaign.

It started well enough after his Sunshine Tour victory: He finished 13th in the Sicilian Open and fourth in the Trophée Hassan II, but then it all started falling apart.

His share of 35th in the Maybank Malaysian Open was not much to write home about, but it all looked very bleak when he missed three consecutive cuts.

He came home to lick his wounds and rediscover his swagger in the Pretoria leg of the Vodacom Origins of Golf series, and, while he didn’t win it – he finished second, three shots off the pace of winner Jean Hugo – he was smiling a little more easily afterwards.

That smile was nearly wiped off his face as he missed yet another cut in Europe, this time in the Saab Wales Open.

But he eased his way through June with two top 20 finishes and then it clicked at the BMW International Open and a third-place finish.

That was followed by a respectable enough 37th in the Alstom French Open before the performance that made him a realistic contender ahead of the Open Championship: He came third in the Barclays Scottish Open, played on a links course in a tournament that was so badly affected by the weather that it was reduced to three rounds.

If anything was going to prepare him for Royal St George’s, that was it.

And yet, there was still some surprise that he hung in as long as he did in the Open, eventually finishing a respectable 15th.

Much of the surprise was as a result of his own history. Here’s what a feature on him on the Golfweek website said:

“Coetzee won the 2005 South African Amateur. He came to the United States to play for the University of San Diego after an impressive showing at the Junior Worlds at nearby Torrey Pines, but stayed in the States for just one semester.

“Tim Mickelson, who coached Coetzee at USD, said he was the most talented freshman he ever had. Coetzee didn’t have a car in the States, though, so he relied on teammates for rides to nearby courses. He spent a lot of time partying instead of practicing or going to class.

“His game was a mess. By the end of the semester, he struggled to break 80. One problem. As South Africa’s amateur champion, he had a tee time with Tim Clark and Retief Goosen at the South African Open.

“‘I putted like a champion,’ he said. All for rounds of 84-88. ‘I was playing the worst golf of my life.’

“Coetzee decided to return home to focus on his game.”

So there was a precedent for his return home earlier this year to get things back on track.

And it has all turned into a performance in the Open which has put him on the international stage which his Telkom PGA Championship victory suggested he deserved to tread.

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