For a man who has led the cream of European golf to glory in the Ryder Cup, Jose Maria Olazabal still admits to being envious of the wealth of talent South African golf continually produces.
The victorious captain of the 2012 European team is one of the star attractions in this weekÂs inaugural Tshwane Open at The Els Club Copperleaf.
HeÂs been impressed with Ernie ElsÂ sweeping golf course, which is hosting a major European Tour-Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned tournament for the first time.
ÂItÂs a long course, even though weÂre not off the back tees all the time. The front nine is particularly long. Overall itÂs a great golf course. IÂm struggling with my driving, and the golf course being as long as it is, you need to drive it well,Â Olazabal said on Tuesday.
HeÂs also enjoyed the sunshine after a week of snow back home that limited his practice.
But itÂs the level of golf talent that keeps emerging from South Africa that impresses Olazabal, whose own Spanish homeland has given the game Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Manuel Pinero and of course himself.
ÂYou have a lot of great players, no question. For whatever reason this country is able to deliver great players. I donÂt now why. To be honest, the level here is much better than in Spain. ItÂs true that for a while we had great players in Spain, but we are struggling to see a new generation coming up. But you have a lot of great players, Major winners, in this country. In a way I envy that.Â
This week marks the first time that Olazabal is playing in a Sunshine Tour event, having previously only played in the invitation-only Nedbank Golf Challenge and the Volvo Golf Champions, a strictly European Tour event, in this country.
And heÂs not surprised that South Africa currently hosts six tournaments co-sanctioned with the European Tour, which is a record.
ÂThis is a country thatÂs doing well at the moment. Europe is struggling, as everyone knows. ItÂs nice to come to countries like this where the courses are so good and the weather is great. ItÂs great to play competitive golf under great conditions.Â
This weekÂs field includes 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell, a close friend of Els and Retief Goosen, and who is equally impressed with the state of South African golf.
ÂItÂs something in the water here. ItÂs incredible. There are so many wonderful players coming out of here now. ItÂs a tribute to the guys who paved the way like Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, he said.Â
Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open champion, and a host of multiple winners on the European Tour and Sunshine Tour round off a strong field.
By Michael Vlismas