Luke Jerling starts the Sunshine Tour’s Vodacom Origins of Golf event at De Zalze Golf Estate on Wednesday as something of a poster child for the kinds of difficulties faced by local players looking to make the step up a level in the quest for improvement.
Having finished off the Sunshine Tour’s summer events with a share of third in the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open in April and of eighth in June in the SunBet Challenge at Sun City, and faced with a two-month winter hiatus, he ran into some health issues which put the brakes on his upward trajectory.
“I dislocated my finger a few days after the SunBet Challenge which ruled me out of any golf for a month,” he said. “And then I started developing a fever on the weekend of July 10 that gradually got worse and led to coughing and shortness of breath. I went for a PCR test the following Monday which came back positive for COVID-19.”
He ended up in hospital as he fought low oxygen levels, pneumonia and clotting on his lungs, all of which was a shock to a fit and healthy person in his late 20s. He got better, but it was only in the last half of July that he says he began to feel ‘human’ again.
So the man who currently lies 15th on the Order of Merit goes into the resumption of tournament play on the Sunshine Tour a little underdone when it comes to preparation, a little unsure of just how things will go after he hits his first tee shot, but excited to get the show on the road again.
“My breathing feels back to normal,” he said. “I’m just feeling fatigued but I can play through that. The game is feeling pretty good, so I’m very much looking forward to getting going again.”
And with European Tour regular George Coetzee in the field as he tries a less frantically travel-oriented approach to his schedule, Jerling certainly has some high-quality opposition against which to test himself.
In addition to Coetzee, recent winners Jaco Prinsloo, Alex Haindl and Ruan Korb are in the field, as well as the serial Vodacom Origins of Golf winner Jean Hugo. Of Hugo’s 19 Sunshine Tour titles, no fewer than 11 have come in the popular series which forms the backbone of the Sunshine Tour’s winter schedule.
That makes Jerling’s quest for a maiden Sunshine Tout title even tougher. “I’m still searching for my first win as a professional,” he said. “Although this is my main goal, I do not want to put unnecessary pressure on myself to get it done. The standard of golf on the Sunshine Tour is so high and it is only getting better. So many products of our tour are now winning all over the world and the world rankings are testimony to this.”
He’s playing on a course that is home to one of those products, fellow-lefty Garrick Higgo. “As a fellow lefty, it’s been fantastic to watch Garrick’s rise in world golf over the last few months. I really aspire to having his kind of mental toughness when it comes to winning tournaments. Hopefully, it’s just the first one that’s the hardest!”
The stage is set for Jerling at De Zalze. How he recovers from a winter of discontent will show him his way forward.