Justin Harding will remember playing in his first major championship with a mixture of happiness and regret, but he will always be grateful that the Open Championship added an extra skill to his golfing arsenal.
Playing in his first tournament back after taking a break after the Open, he carded an opening two-under-par 70 on a cold, windy, rainy day at Langebaan Country Estate in the Vodacom Origins of Golf event there to trail leader Attie Schwartzel by one.
“I spent some time in Europe, and pretty much spent it sipping wine,” he laughed, “but it was nice to be back and in the competitive vibe again on the Sunshine Tour.”
Harding won the International Final Qualifier Africa for the Open Championship in Johannesburg in February, and while he got there a week ahead of the tournament, he battled at Muirfield and missed the cut after rounds of 78 and 74.
“Muirfield was a beast of a golf course,” he said. “I didn’t feel as if I played all that badly there, either, but it was just so difficult to score.”
He had a patch in his opening round when he made seven consecutive bogeys, and it was difficult to recover from that. “I had a bit of a bad run on the first day on the back nine,” he said, “and that put me on the back foot pretty much from the get-go.
“So it was a bit disappointing. I would have liked to have played better. Obviously, I would have liked to have made the cut and at least tried to have performed to my abilities. But it was a good experience and I enjoyed it,” he added.
And one of the things he took from the Muirfield experience was that in golf, waiting is sometimes the most aggressive tactic available to a player.
“I think one thing I learnt was that you have to be patient in golf, and maybe that was something missing from my game,” he said. “It’s just impossible to fire at the flags in a major, and it was more so at Muirfield, where, to be fair, the R&A probably got the set-up wrong on the first day, as so many players suggested.
“And then in the second round, I had to try and fire at flags to see if I could make the cut, and that’s not the way to play courses like that,” he added.
On a tough opening day at Langebaan, that new-found patience was evident.