By Michael Vlismas
Henrik Stenson has arrived at Sun City for the upcoming Nedbank Golf Challenge, and the Swede has declared his wrist fine as he attempts to win “Africa’s Major” for a second time.
The winner of the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup told tournament officials he had been exercising his wrist for the past week. He had not hit a golf ball, but was due to play a practice round with his caddie at the Lost City Golf Course on Saturday afternoon.
The anticipation for this year’s tournament has reached deep into even the bushveld of Mpumalanga, where time moves as slowly as a 30-foot uphill putt.
The Nedbank Golf Challenge is one tournament away from finalising its 30-man field. That will happen on the 18th green at Leopard Creek this Sunday, when the Alfred Dunhill Championship draws to a close. Should the winner already have qualified for the Nedbank Golf Challenge, then this spot will be drawn from the official world rankings.
The significance of a place in the Nedbank Golf Challenge is certainly not lost on the Southern Africans competing at Leopard Creek. And inevitably, it’s the boyhood memories of this event that are most often spoken about.
“I remember a couple of times as a kid we were supposed to go to Sun City to watch the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and we didn’t make it. Obviously I’ve watched it on TV many times and I’m looking forward to it for sure,” said Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge, who is making his debut in the tournament on the back of another solid season on the PGA Tour.
Another first-timer at Sun City will be Sunshine Tour Order of Merit leader Darren Fichardt. “It means a lot to be playing there. When you’re growing up, that’s Africa’s Major. When I was young and watching golf on TV it was always the Nedbank Golf Challenge that caught your eye. It’s a great honour to be able to play there.”
Charl Schwartzel, who will be playing in his fifth Nedbank Golf Challenge, recalls how it was the first tournament his father George took him to watch. “I was watching Ernie Els putting on the practice green. Then he left to tee off, leaving behind his golf ball. So I nipped under the rope and stole it. It really is a special event. I rate the tournament highly. I think for a South African to play the Nedbank – it’s big.”
And while there may not be as strong an emotional connection to this event as for the South Africans, the foreigners also value their place in the Sun City field.
German Martin Kaymer is back to defend his title, having taken his place amongst the great champions at the Gary Player Country Club.
“You look at all those great names on the bronze plaques on the walkway to the ninth green, and it’s nice to know mine will be on there as well.”
And Englishman Luke Donald is back in the field this year. In 2011 he summed up what an invitation to the Nedbank Golf Challenge means to him. “This has always been one of those events where, if you’re playing this week, you know you’ve had a good year. It’s a reward at the end of the year. But at the same time it’s a great event. It’s not just another event. It’s Africa’s Major as they like to call it, and it attracts a great field. There is no doubt that this is a quality event.”