The foreign tide was a difficult one to stem on the first day of the South African Open hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni on Thursday, but one local lad to stand tall was Pretoria-born Richard Sterne, who stormed to a 67 courtesy of a five-birdie blitzkrieg on the back nine.
With the Glendower rough baring its teeth, Sterne was by no means at his fluent best, especially in the early stages of his round. However, a red-hot putter allowed him to limit the damage initially, and he cashed in coming home with birdies at 12, 13, 15, 16 and 18 to leave himself just a stroke behind overnight leaders Andy Sullivan and Jbe’ Kruger.
“I’m really happy with that,” the 33-year old smiled. “It was a tough test today, so five under is a good start. The first 10 or 12 holes were a bit of a struggle, and then I started hitting the ball a bit better. But I kept myself in it, and I made a few good par putts along the way. That’s what you’ve got to do on a course that’s set up like this.”
Sterne was one of many players to note the brutal nature of the rough in the buildup to the week, and had his share of troubles with the thick stuff during the opening stages of his round. Yet the six-time European Tour winner revealed that, upon reflection, he’d made peace with the difficult setup, and instead put his focus on finding the short grass.
“It’s actually the most severe rough I’ve ever seen in places,” Sterne explained. “If you hit it in the wrong place, you’re just not going to get a decent lie at all. I hit a full lob wedge about 10 yards on the one hole, and that was as far as I could get it. So you’ve got to hit it straight, and take your chances on the par fives if you’re on the fairway.
“The first time you see it, you get a bit of a shock. Then you go home and you think about it, and you realise it’s the same for everybody. It’s such a great golf course, and I understand it needs to be tough. I think it’s a little severe in places, but I suppose it will separate the men from the boys!” he added.
Sterne is no stranger to triumph in golf’s second-oldest national Open, as he memorably defeated Englishman Gareth Maybin in a playoff at Pearl Valley in 2008. Yet despite already etching his name in history, he admitted he still has great hunger for more success in an event boasting such an esteemed group of multiple champions.
“I did win it a few years ago, but it’s something I would like to win quite a few times. If you look at Gary Player who’s won it 13 times, Bobby Locke nine times and Ernie, who I think has won it five times, you see that the great South African golfers have really dominated at this event. It’s nice to have my name on the trophy, but I’d definitely like to get it on there a few more times!” Sterne concluded.