He’s had a storied career on the Sunshine Tour, but all of Jaco van Zyl’s 13 titles will pale into insignificance when he steps to the first tee in the 144th Open Championship at St Andrews at 12:33pm South African time.
He’s had Ivor Robson’s dulcet tones call him to play before – the long-time starter for the Open has worked at the South African Open Championship on two occasions – but he could barely contain his excitement on the eve of his first excursion in the world’s oldest major championship.
“It’s unbelievably exciting to have got my first chance to play in the Open here at St Andrews,” he said ahead of his first round during which he will play with 1989 Open champion Mark Calcavecchia and the German Marcel Siem. In fact, he was excited enough that he couldn’t remember Calcavecchia’s name.
Either that, or his attempts at keeping the playing side of things as familiar as possible was working really effectively. “I haven’t gone out of my way to play practice rounds with any of the big names,” he said. “If I had done that, I would have ended up worrying about what they were doing instead of concentrating on my own routines.”
So he has spent his time doing things the way he does for any tournament. I’ve played practice rounds with people like Andy Sullivan and Eddie Pepperell. “I’ve not played much with Eddie, but of course I know Andy well from his South African successes,” said Van Zyl.
He’s no stranger to the Old Course at St Andrews, from a number of visits to the Dunhill Links Championship which has two rounds played on the hallowed turf. He’s also got a superlative bogey-free nine-under-par 64 behind his name on The Links at Fancourt when he won the Dimension Data Pro-Am there in 2013.
“I like playing on links courses,” he said. “Remember I grew up on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, and I’m used to coastal winds affecting the flight of my golf ball. I have no problem with keeping it low and using the contours to work my ball towards the hole.”
He’s also fully aware of the threat the weather can pose at St Andrews. “It looks as if my first round will be okay,” he said, “and I’m off very early on Friday, so, with luck, I can beat the worst of it.”
He’s one of eight South Africans in the field. Two – Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen – have won The Open. One – Retief Goosen – has two majors, and Charl Schwartzel has one. Branden Grace, George Coetzee and Thomas Aiken all have top-10 finishes in majors.
It could be Van Zyl’s turn to make his major mark.