Like a man watching his favourite movie for the umpteenth time, George Coetzee’s love for Pretoria Country Club shone through once again as it took him into the joint first-round lead of the Sunshine Tour’s Titleist Championship on Wednesday.
On a golf course he first stepped onto as a young boy, every hole played itself out like a fond memory as Coetzee signed for bogey-free five-under-par 67 to finish an overcast first round tied for the lead with birthday boy Hennie O’Kennedy.
They are one-stroke clear of Clayton Mansfield, and with Jaco Ahlers and Merrick Bremner two shots off the lead.
It was hardly surprising to see Coetzee at the top of the leaderboard in this Rise-Up Series tournament, played on a course he knows so well it’s like an extra few shots on the field before they’ve even teed off.
Coetzee won his first tournament here as a 10-year-old, has played countless social and competitive rounds of amateur golf here, and won two of his four European Tour events here in the 2015 and 2018 Tshwane Opens.
“It’s nice to be back here on a golf course I’m very comfortable on. I played with Ulrich van den Berg today and he said to me, ‘You just know where to go here’, and after the round I thought, ‘Ja, I kind of do know where to go on this golf course’,” he said.
Perhaps nothing showed Coetzee’s comfort levels here more than the fact that this was also his first bogey-free round since the start of the Rise-Up Series two weeks ago.
“It’s nice to finally get my first bogey-free round in tournament golf post lockdown. The first tournament I played on the Series after lockdown was not ideal. It was very cold and the course was firm. I wasn’t expecting much, and I didn’t deliver much. Last week at Glendower the greens were quite pure and that helped. But it’s nice to finally post a decent number.”
But Coetzee is hardly taking anything for granted, with two rounds still to come in this 54-hole event.
“If you play well and you’re in a good space, it helps. But there’s no such thing as a gimme in golf. If that was the case I would’ve won every tournament played at Pretoria Country Club, and I obviously haven’t.”
Yet he does seem to have the inside track to the secret for success on this collection of fairways in the Jacaranda suburbs of Pretoria.
And for now, he’s keeping that secret to himself.
“What’s the secret to this course? It’s 20 years of golf at Pretoria Country Club. That’s the secret.”
By Michael Vlismas