Coetzee targets 2015 Africa Open

SA Open Championship: Round 1South Africa’s George Coetzee is determined to start another memorable year on home soil with a noteworthy performance in the Africa Open at East London Golf Club next month.

The Pretoria professional broke through for his first European Tour title in the Joburg Open early last year and now the 28-year-old is targeting a little Eastern Province magic from 5-8 March.

“No foreign player has ever won the Africa Open and I think that sets the tournament apart from all the other Sunshine Tour and European Tour co-sanctioned events,” Coetzee said.

“One look at the trophy and you know you want to put your name on it.”

The inaugural Africa Open was won by Shaun Norris at the Fish River Sun Country Club in 2008 and two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen held off a charging Darren Clarke from Northern Ireland for victory in 2009 when the event moved to its new home at East London Golf Club.

“The Africa Open joined the European Tour in 2010,” Coetzee said. “It was the first time I played and it was a big deal to see all the foreign players pull into East London.”

Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel won that year, while Coetzee tied for 28th.

He also teed up in 2011 and 2012 when former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen claimed podium finishes.

Although he missed the last two editions, Coetzee watched with pride as Darren Fichardt beat compatriot Jaco van Zyl and Frenchman Gregory Bourdy by two shots in 2013, and Thomas Aiken defeat Ollie Fisher from England in a play-off last year.

The five-time Sunshine Tour champion believes the unique record makes the Africa Open an attractive event for South Africans and foreign players alike.

“The Africa Open always attracts a strong field of local and international players,” he said. “The crowds are always fantastic, because they are lively but very neutral. They just want to watch some great golf and they cheer for everyone. It’s fun to play in front of galleries like that.”

Coming off a career best season last year, Coetzee is determined to keep raising the bar.

“Since I won the Joburg Open, I’ve been really hungry to win again, but I know you just need to put in the work and wait for it to happen,” he said.

He came close with superb performances in the World Golf Championship – Accenture Match Play and Volvo World Match Play and finished the season ranked 23rd in the Race to Dubai. His prize money was worth just over €1.1-million, more than double than his earnings in 2013.

On home soil, Coetzee took fifth on the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit with earnings of more than R3-million.

The South African has already broken into the top 30 in the Race to Dubai and feels he is getting close to another breakthrough.

If he gets a feel for the greens at East London Golf Club, Coetzee could certainly be the man to beat.

“Personally, I would very much like to put my name below Thomas’ on the trophy before the international players have their day,” he said.

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