Form is fleeting in golf, and defending South African Open champion Christiaan Bezuidenhout knows that as well as anyone in the field for this year’s edition of the second-oldest open in the world which gets underway on Thursday at Gary Player Country Club.
He was unstoppable when he won the South African Open Championship at Sun City last year, and followed with a triumph at Leopard Creek in the Alfred Dunhill Championship which catapulted him to a status in world golf which his play had always promised he would achieve.
He tees off in defence of what is without doubt his most prestigious title with just one top-10 finish in the last year on each of the European Tour – now the DP World Tour – and the PGA Tour. Despite that, his reputation as a player of global stature has been burnished by glimpses of the form which propelled him into the elite world ranks.
Those glimpses have admittedly not lasted for whole tournaments, except in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March in the United States where he came seventh, and in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in September where he came fifth.
But those glimpses were enough to suggest that he will put up a vigorous, and quite possibly even a successful, defence of his title, even in the face of the challenge by a large bunch of South Africans who have both form and reputation behind their efforts at winning one of the most sought-after titles in golf.
While there is a measure of disappointment that the tournament is not taking its normal rightful place on the world stage, thanks largely to some wrong-headed thinking and actions surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – principally from the United Kingdom – the field could barely be stronger.
Besides Bezuidenhout, there are four other South African Open champions in Brandon Stone, James Kingston, Hennie Otto and Richard Sterne in the field. There are players who have made their way back home from international circuits where some of them have won in the last year, like Garrick Higgo, George Coetzee, Dean Burmester, Justin Harding, Daniel van Tonder and Shaun Norris.
And there are the men who have been grinding their way through the local Sunshine Tour season, some winning in demonstration of their ability to step out onto the international stage. Recent winners include Jacques Kruyswijk, Luke Brown and Thriston Lawrence.
There are also the youngsters who have recently turned professional, pursuing a goal which would be in their grasp if they have a dream week at Sun City. Amongst them are Ryan van Velzen, who blitzed the field in the qualifiers with a nine-under-par total, and former South African number one Martin Vorster.
Amateurs in the field
And there are the amateurs, some of whom have started winning in professional tournaments over the last year as they seek to close out their unpaid careers with the Freddie Tait Cup for the leading amateur at the end of the week. Casey Jarvis won that trophy last year, impressive in his share of 25th, and he’s an even better player this year.
Also impressive have been Christiaan Burke, who has won four times this year on the BIG Easy IGT Challenge Tour, and Christiaan Maas, who has one twice on the same circuit.
Perhaps the hunger for the South African Open Championship title is best summed up by Dylan Frittelli: “I’m trying to win the SA Open and that was always, and still is, my major focus coming back to South Africa,” he said. “I’ve got to get my name on the SA Open trophy before I stop playing golf.”
There’s not a player in the field who doesn’t feel that way. Of all of them, Bezuidenhout has the biggest point to prove.