Jaco taking aim at Europe

Jaco van Zyl gets his fledgling European Tour career underway on Thursday as he finally gets to play in Europe in the Sicilian Open at the Donnafugata Golf Resort and Spa.

It’s the first European Tour to be staged on the island, and Van Zyl, who earned his European Tour card with a fifth-place finish in the European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage in Spain last December, will be one of four South Africans in the field.

Shaun Norris also earned his card in the Qualifying School event last year with his 14th place finish at Catalunya, and the other South Africans are Keith Horne, in by virtue of his 94th-place finish in last year’s Race to Dubai, and George Coetzee, who finished 19th at Catalunya.

Van Zyl, who won provincial colours for swimming and water-skiing, is also a keen surfer, and he will hope to ride the wave of his recent local successes as he explores European fairways.

He won four times on last year’s Sunshine Tour, and three times in 2009. He finished fourth on the 2009 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and sixth in 2010 – the only thing preventing him winning those was the lack of a victory on one of the four South African events co-sanctioned by the European Tour.

His extraordinary 2010 Sunshine Tour season led him to the decision to play some golf in Europe in 2011, despite the fact that he is very much a player who prefers the comforts of home.

That’s not hard to understand with the recent birth of his second son Oliver, and the pleasure his first son Cameron takes in seeing his dad play.

And Van Zyl has said he will use the first few months of playing in Europe as a reconnaissance expedition for perhaps finding a European base for his young family ahead of the demands of schooling which are still some years away.

His immediate goal, however, will be to get a good finish in Sicily, where he will be up against players against whom he has played before and against whom he will feel capable of coming out on top.

But he will not underestimate the opposition: The three other South Africans in the field own nine titles between them, with Coetzee’s victory in last month’s Telkom PGA Championship the most recent.

And the last winner of an exclusively European Tour event – as opposed to the recent World Golf Championships cash extravaganzas – is SSP Chowrasia of India, who won the Avantha Masters on February 20.

So there is no lack of quality facing Van Zyl, and he will relish the challenge.

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