Tjaart van der Walt defends his Lion of Africa Cape Town Open title at Royal Cape Golf Club this week, and he hopes that it doesn’t take him 19 more years to win a professional tournament again.
He turned 40 this year, but he felt a little like a kid in a candy store as he pulled off an emphatic six-stroke victory last year: “The feeling’s is quite out there. I’m at a loss for words,” he said at the time. “I almost see Royal Cape as a place where my career started,” he said this year ahead of his defence.
It’s been a tough year since then, but being back at the scene of his triumph – and with his wife Vicki back on the bag – gives him a pretty good feeling.
“It’s pretty good to come back and defend,” he said. “I haven’t played in almost five months, so it’s nice to just be playing and especially at a place where I’ve got good memories. It brings back a bit of the old juices and I’m looking forward to a good week.”
With a spot in next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge up for grabs for the winner at Royal Cape, Van der Walt finds himself up against a field of real substance this year, with some of South Africa’s regular European Tour campaigners who sometimes are unable to make it home for some Sunshine Tour events back in the country and hungry for that lucrative place in the 30-man field.
While George Coetzee and Danie van Tonder have already secured spots in the tournament, the likes of Thomas Aiken, Branden Grace, Darren Fichardt and Hennie Otto – as well as dozens of other hopefuls – will be trying very hard to win in Cape Town so they can roll the dice at Sun City.
And that’s to say nothing of players like Jacques Blaauw and Jake Roos, each on the cusp of international careers after carving out a little bit of Sunshine Tour fame for themselves. For them, victory in Cape Town – and for Roos, it would be his second – would mean a huge boost to fledgling efforts beyond South African fairways.
In addition, there are more than two dozen players in the field who have won before on the Sunshine Tour, all of whom could win in Cape Town and take that form to Sun City with a sense of real belief.
There’s also the rookie: Haydn Porteous has built himself a formidable first-year resume with eight top-10 finishes, three of which were runner-up spots. After the disappointment of missing out in the European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage, he could just deliver on all that promise.
All of that will make Van der Walt’s challenge in defence of his title very tough. “I’ve put in some hours over the last month or so, getting back into good shape,” he said, “but we’ve got to get that ball in the hole and I hope my putter will co-operate like it did last year.”