Grace ready for second helping at Simola
A recharged Branden Grace hopes a timely return to his home course will drive his bid for title glory when he tees it up in the Sunshine Tour’s Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Simola Golf Estate on Wednesday.
“I expect a strong challenge because there is quite an impressive line-up here this week, but I believe I’ve brought home the form to get the job done,” said the local favourite.
“I feel confident this week. I’m hitting the ball very well; I feel good about my whole game. I set myself a target to get into a good position to challenge. If I can pull that off, I’ll be going for a win.”
The 23-year-old returned to South Africa last week on the back of a couple of solid performances in Europe, including a tie for second at the Acaya Open in Italy at the beginning of July. He ranks eighth on the current European Challenge Tour money list, one spot lower than the seventh place ranking he occupies on the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit.
“It’s great to come home carrying good form,” said Grace. “Overall I’ve had a pretty good season, but I had a shoulder and wrist injury that caused me some discomfort and inconsistency. But I feel good about this week.”
Grace won his maiden title at Fancourt last year and expects similar pressure on him to win this week.
“The situation is pretty much the same,” he said. “I had a lot of friends and family around to pile the pressure on and they will all be here again, but this time I am more prepared and more experienced.
“And playing here at my home course gives me that extra self-belief.”
Grace might be brimming with confidence, but he does expect stiff competition.
“The Tour has had a six week lay-off so I think there are a lot of guys hungry to win,” he said. “Just look at the guys in my practice round four-ball... Ulrich van den Berg, Darren Fichardt, Trevor Fisher Jnr ...they won’t take it easy.”
And neither will four-time Sunshine Tour winner Nic Henning.
“I haven’t won since 2005 but if ever there was a tournament where I could make my comeback, it would be here,” said Henning. The 42-year-old was based at Simola for four years before moving back to Johannesburg 11 months ago.
His advice for the rookies is to hit it straight, keep it in the fairways, to stay clear of the many bunkers and get it safely to the greens. “Only then have you given yourself a chance to challenge, because you don’t want to waste a shot on this layout; it’s a different kind of challenge.”
The 42-year-old believes he will have the real advantage on the greens.
“The greens are very tricky. You have to know where the lines run, you have to know what side of the pin to play for, that kind of thing. If I can get everything working well from the first tee in the first round, I definitely have a chance here this week.”
The early starters on Wednesday can expect a soft course following a downpour of more than 100mm over the weekend, but the weather forecast calls for sunny skies tomorrow.
“At least we don’t have to play bump-and-runs here,” joked Neil Schietekat. “We can fly it at the pin.”
The 27-year-old Modderfontein player, who battled the tough weather conditions at Royal St George’s but missed the cut in his Open Championship debut, said the experience rekindled his passion for golf and he hopes to chase down his maiden title before the end of this season.
“It was an incredible experience, but I probably learned more from missing the cut than making it,” he said. “I am looking forward to the week; it’s a great event and a superb golf course and the weather forecast is good. Who knows, it may finally be my week to get the monkey off my back.”
South African cricket legends Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Barry Richards will be among the amateurs who partner the professionals over the first two rounds of the tournament.
The Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Simola is the third in the six-event series. Each tournament boasts a purse of R540 000, with the winner’s share worth R85 590.
In May, Jean Hugo claimed his fifth victory since the series launched in 2004 by successfully defending his title at Pretoria Country Club, while Chris Swanepoel claimed his first victory since 2007 at the Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Arabella Golf Club in June.