Thabang shooting for stars in Big Easy Tour opener

The opportunities offered by the Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage are making Thabang Simon very excited about his golf all over again.

“I’m aiming to win a few of the tournaments and to take the Order of Merit for the tour,” said Simon ahead of the opening event at Crown Mines Golf Club on Thursday.

The new tour, named after three-time major winner Ernie Els in recognition of his continued commitment to the development of the game in South Africa, gets underway at the 6,915-metre par-72 Crown Mines layout, and will be decided over 36 holes.

The 35-year-old Simon, a 12-year veteran of the Sunshine Tour, is one of 82 entrants in the opening event on the 10-event circuit of R100,000 tournaments, after which there will be R250,000 Tour Championship.

Players who received their cards at the Sunshine Tour 2011 Qualifying School played in Bloemfontein last year, and the top 30 at the Vusi Ngubeni Strokeplay played in Johannesburg in January are eligible to play on the tour, as are those who finished from 71st to 150th on the 2010 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.

Simon closed with a two-under-par 69 in last week’s MTC Namibia PGA Championship for a share of 46th behind winner JG Claassen, and, but for a three-over 74 in his third round, might have earned almost double the R5,640 he took home.

“I’ve been striking the ball well lately, but my putting’s been a problem,” he said. “I can’t seem to break 32 putts in a round – for example, that 69 in Namibia had 32 putts in it.

“I had some advice from [Sunshine Tour chief operating officer] Grant Wilson, and I hope that helps me,” he added.

But, for Simon, who has had nine top-1o finishes in his Sunshine Tour career, the opportunity to hone the results of such tips and of insights into his game he has gained elsewhere is the thing that’s got him excited.

“It’s going to make our golf standards improve,” he enthused, “and it’s going to give us a tournament environment to focus on improving our game.”

Simon is going to be in some equally excited company: Namibia winner Claassen is one of the many rookies in the field, and he will be looking to see if he can repeat the winning recipe he’s found so early in his career.

There is also place for players who are even more veterans than Simon: The 60-year-old John Mashego is in the field, and his only win on the Sunshine Tour came in the 1991 Bushveld Classic.

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