Richard Sterne won the Alfred Dunhill Championship during a golden year for him in 2008, and, although there have been flashes of what was promised that year, injury has bedevilled his attempts to take advantage of his undoubted skills.
He tees it up in this year’s tournament at Leopard Creek on Thursday, back from yet another break from the game, but with renewed hope after his share of 20th in last week’s Lion of Africa Cape Town Open – even though a final-round 75 stymied his attempt to get into the mix with eventual winner Brandon Stone.
“I haven’t played a lot of golf, and if I hadn’t played well in Cape Town, it would not have helped for Leopard Creek,” he said. “The game isn’t that far off, to be honest. I’m a bit surprised – in a good way.”
Sterne’s golden 2008 started off with victory in the Joburg Open in January, and he book-ended the year nicely with wins at Leopard Creek and at Pearl Valley when he won the South African Open Championship.
Since then, he has won only the 2013 Joburg Open on the Sunshine Tour, but he seems to be back on track ahead of a tournament on a course he loves.
“I was undecided about playing the week before Leopard Creek or just going straight into the tournament,” he said, “but I managed to get used to tournament golf again in Cape Town, to hitting shots under pressure.
“My goal last week at the Cape Town Open was just really to get four rounds under the belt. I was kind of in contention, but Brandon ran away with it. I’m playing quite nicely – there are just a couple of things here and there, but I’ve tried to sort out the issues that I’ve had for the last year and a half. I’m not hitting any of those shots at the moment which is good.
“There are still a couple of other things but to get four rounds before the Alfred Dunhill Championship was the goal and I’m feeling pretty good. I was nice to have different weather conditions. It was nice to have some wind so I could see the ball flight. I hit some good shots and I’m putting alright. I’m chipping very well which is something that I struggled with and that was a strong point in Cape Town.”
Sterne is one of five former champions in the field. The others are Charl Schwartzel, who has won three times, Pablo Martin Benavides of Spain who won twice, Garth Mulroy and Branden Grace.