By Lali Stander
European Tour champion Richard Sterne accomplished an unprecedented feat in South African golf when he won the 2008 Joburg Open, Alfred Dunhill and South African Open Championships in one calendar year.
Now the 33-year-old Stellenbosch golfer has set himself another unique target in the 2015 Africa Open, which tees off at East London Golf Club from 5-8 March.
Sterne wants to become the first winner of all of South Africa’s European Tour co-sanctioned tournaments.
“The 2015 Africa Open is at the top of my list,” said Sterne from California, where he competed in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the PGA Tour.
“Most people would think that kind of record is impossible, but I think it can be done. Ernie Els won his fourth Major at the age of 42, Darren Clarke won the Open at 40 and Miguel Ángel Jiménez was 50 when he won his 21st title on the European Tour.
“I might be getting on a little, but I’m still way off the 40-mark and I am as competitive as ever. To win all five European Tour co-sanctioned events would be an incredible achievement, and it’s definitely one of my goals.”
Sterne earned his first pro title in the Open de Madrid on the European Tour in 2004.
A year later, he triumphed in the Celtic Manor Wales Open and raised his tally to five with in a memorable 2008. He rose to 30th in the official golf world rankings at the end of that season, but his career came to a grinding halt a few months later due to back injuries.
Surgery and 18 months on the bench meant a long climb back for Sterne, but he celebrated a hard-earned comeback with his second Joburg Open victory in 2013.
He hopes to write another chapter in South African golfing history in March by adding to his haul of silverware in East London.
“I’ve been in a strong position in past starts in the Africa Open, but I never really capitalised in the final round,” he said.
“My first goal this year is to get into a challenging position for Sunday and then I’m going for broke.”
The South African made his Africa Open debut in 2009 and earned the enduring support from the Buffalo City golf fans when he blitzed the course in 61 strokes to better a one-day old course record 62, set by former Masters Champion Angel Cabrera in the second round.
He was one of the favourites heading into the final round, but Sterne let himself down with a 73 to finish six shots off the pace from champion Retief Goosen.
“I guess I stamped my authority on the course in 2009, but my putter went cold in the final round,” said Sterne, who tied for 13th in 2010 and finished sixth in 2012.
“That has kind of been the story in my three visits at the Africa Open. I put myself in the mix, but let myself down with one bad round and I really want to turn that around this year.”
Winning the eighth edition of Africa Open is high on his list of priorities, but Sterne knows the job won’t be easy.
“There will be some stiff competition in East London,” he said. “It’s a popular tournament and a lot of Sunshine Tour and European Tour winners will be in the hunt.
“There is a strong contingent of up-and-coming players from both sides this year, chasing world ranking points and European Tour exemption and the points for the Investec Cup is another a huge incentive.
“It’s always a tough battle in East London, but I’m feeling extra competitive this year and hopefully that will give me the edge I need.”
The Africa Open is a co-sanctioned event between the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour and the field of 156 players, split equally between the two Tours, will compete for a purse of R14-million.
South Africa’s George Coetzee and former Open champion Darren Clarke from Northern-Ireland, reigning South African Open champion Andy Sullivan from England, as well as past champions Shaun Norris and Darren Fichardt are among the confirmed entries.
Entry is free on Thursday, 5 and Friday, 6 March. Tickets are R25 for adults and R10 for pensioners and children under 18 on Saturday, 7 and Sunday 8 March and can be purchased at entrance gate at East London Golf Club.