It’s a daunting experience for any South African when they stand on the first tee at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, when they finally play a tournament that they’ve watched on television since childhood. It’s a tick on the bucket list that players like Van der Walt will always remember.
“I don’t know how it will be on Thursday, but I’m definitely more comfortable this time around. Last year I was very nervous and wasn’t playing too well. You step out on this big stage, this tournament you’ve watched your whole life, and your game is not quite where you want it to be. That’s what leads to a 77 in the first round!” he said.
There’s a legend that the Nedbank Golf Challenge is never won by first-timers and this year the two-time European Tour winner is ready to compete.
“I played it last year and feel quite familiar with the golf course, but they always say that nobody wins it on their first time here. The from South Africans have played here quite a bit through the Sunshine Tour, so we’ve seen the course play quite a few ways,” he said.
The Dimension Data Pro-Am used to play out at Gary Player Country Club and Louis Oosthuizen won it there in 2007. He’s in the hunt this week and ready for a big week.
“I’m confident going into it, but I want to take it slow. I’ve won a tournament here before and it’s the type of place where a bad hole is around the corner. There are tough tee shots and spots that you need to stay away from.
“I won that Di-Data Pro-Am by one shot with a birdie at the last. This tournament is set up much tougher and the rough is always very thick. You need to hit fairways and you learn to play the course differently and not just take driver and bomb it,” he said.
Van der Walt is well on his way to understanding the track and this year he doesn’t have to deal with the sensation of being a first-timer.
“It’s not so much the course as it is about getting comfortable about the surroundings. We tend to get nervous, because this is one of the biggest events you play in your life. My advice is to keep it on the fairway and under the hole,” he said.