George Coetzee has knocked on victory’s door for four years and it took “a bit of luck” on Sunday at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, but he claimed his maiden European Tour title with a three-shot victory at the Joburg Open.
“You need a little bit of luck to win these things. On 15 I pulled my driver and that was the decider, because it should have gone into the water but instead it hit a tree and bounced back into the fairway. You always have this plan in mind for yourself when you’re coming down the stretch and it never goes the way you think it will. I’m very happy to have finished the job,” he said.
Overnight leaders Thomas Aiken and Justin Walters began the day four shots ahead of Coetzee, but the leading pair lagged over the front stretch. Their slow scoring gave the flying Coetzee an opportunity to rein in the lead, which he achieved with four birdies over the front stretch to turn one off the pace on 17-under.
“You can be a bit more aggressive when you come from a few shots behind,” said Coetzee. “The plan was to get four on the front nine and luckily I managed to do that. I didn’t know what the lead was, but I decided that anything under par on the back nine would give me a chance.”
The 27-year-old also wins one of three places at The Open Championship, which were offered up as part of the new Open Qualifying Series incorporated into the Joburg Open. Joining him at the oldest major are Justin Walters and Korea’s Jin Jeong, who shared second place and edged out fellow runner-up Tyrrell Hatton based on their world ranking.
“Beginning of the week if you gave me second place I would have put my feet up and taken it, but given the situation I’m a little disappointed,” said Walters. “It’s bittersweet, though, because I’ve earned a place at The Open and that’s the major we’ve all dreamed of playing in since we were kids.”
Coetzee’s round was electric and began with a solid birdie at the par-five first. His approach at the fourth cleared a greenside bunker and stopped 15 feet from the cup, and he drained the downhill putt for birdie. There are three par fives on the front nine and the new champion realised that he needed to birdie them.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here without those four birdies on the front nine. The first five holes are probably the toughest on the course, but they’re also the holes where you need to score,” he said.
Through the turn Coetzee realised that he was within range and believed that with a few more birdies he had a good shot at the trophy. When he scored at the 10th, finding the cup in three strokes, he reached 18-under-par and led for the first time.
Rounds of 65 from Andy Sullivan and 66 from Tyrrell Hatton did little to catch Coetzee who, by the time he birdied the 15th had pulled three shots clear of the field.
Coetzee clocked up 24 top-10s on the European Tour while waiting patiently for his week to come. The wait is over.
“You need to keep a good frame of mind, one in which you accept that your win will come when the time is right. Sitting here with the trophy is not important, what you do out on the course is important. I’m happy with what I achieved out there today,” he said.
“This was the next step for me. Since I was a kid I set out specific goals for myself. I wanted to win junior club champs, monthly medal, senior club champs, open stroke play, one of the big three amateur events, then a Sunshine Tour event, then a big Sunshine Tour event (not one of the winter tournaments). The next step was always going to be winning a co-sanctioned event. I get to tick my box and move on to the next one.”