While he liked the feeling of being announced at the preview press conference as the defending champion of the Tshwane Open, Dawie van der Walt admits he faces a journey into the unknown as he looks to defend his title this week.
“It’s a good feeling to be back here,” he said of the €1.5-million tournament at The Els Club Copperleaf co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour. “There are good memories and I hope I can just play well.”
Van der Walt won his maiden Sunshine Tour and European Tour title in the inaugural Tshwane Open 12 months ago and also triumphed at the Nelson Mandela Championship in December, but does not know how he will respond to the pressure of being defending champion.
“This is the first time I am defending so I don’t really know what it’s like,” Van der Walt said. “We will see how I deal with the pressure of defending.
“I am not putting too much pressure on myself, my goal for this week is just to have a chance going into the last day to defend the title, not be too far back.
“If I can defend it, great; if I don’t I’m not going to let it affect me too much.”
Van der Walt won by two shots from compatriot Darren Fichardt last year on the Ernie Els-designed course, which at 7,281 metres (7,964 yards) is the longest course in European Tour history.
It is also the first European Tour course to have four par-fives measuring over 600 yards, while the 685-yard par-five fourth hole is the longest in European Tour history.
That length is both intimidating and challenging for Van der Walt. “I don’t know if we’re going to play it all the way off the back – it’s almost ridiculously long,” he said. “At the 15th – I wasn’t even paying attention and they’ve moved the tee so far back – I hit a driver I thought was decent and it was not even close to getting to the bunker. And the course is playing really long, so I think you’re going to see a good ball-striker come out on top.
“I think it’s fun to play a course like this. It’s long and everything, but it’s not tough. If it was tight, it would be a different story. The fairways are pretty generous, so if you hit driver well, it’s not all that bad,” he added.
One of his toughest challenges will come from the recent Joburg Open winner, George Coetzee, who is relishing the idea of taking on the long course. “I’ve been practicing my driver off the deck!” he laughed.
“I rate myself as a decent long hitter, and I think it will play into my hands. I really like this golf course. It suits me. It’s kind of a bomber’s track and then a putting contest, and those are the two parts of my game that I work on and I’m probably best at. I know the course very well and it should be good fun,” he added.