After the short festive break, we’re ready and raring to go as the European Tour’s 2018 events get underway with our South African Open tips. The season may already be 4 events old following the low-key tournaments that followed Dubai, however the action for me really kicks off from this week with the BMW SA Open which is then followed by the Middle-East Swing starting in Abu Dhabi next week where we’ll be joined by some of the golfing elite including Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose to name but a few.
With the Ryder Cup to look forward at Le Golf National later in the year, expect players with aspirations of making Thomas Bjorn’s team to feature heavily in the bigger events of the European Tour schedule this year, however there are also a number of smaller tournaments to look forward to. New events in Oman and the Philippines as well as alternative format events in Perth, for the 2nd running of the World Super 6, plus the new Belgian Knockout event hosted by Thomas Pieters will add a new level of variety to the schedule which will also feature a total of 8 Rolex Series events.
On to matters at hand though and this week we have our South African Open tips as well as the Sony Open in Hawaii over on the PGA Tour (Steve Bamford previews that event here). Ernie Els plays host this week as the 107th South African Open takes us back to Glendower Golf Club on the outskirts of Johannesburg to kick-start the 2018 events on the European Tour.
Glendower GC, Gauteng, Johannesburg. Designer: Charles Hugh Allison, 1937; Course Type: Classical, Parkland, Altitude; Par: 72; Length: 7,594 yards; Water Hazards: 11; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu; Greens A1/A4 Bentgrass, 12 on the stimpmeter.
Course Overview. Glendower GC is a classical parkland track first opened in 1937 which received a fairly extensive renovation in 2007 with updates predominantly to the green complexes. At 7,594 yards the layout may look a brute on paper, however being at the altitude of the South African Highveld, which sits around 1,500 metres above sea level, you can scrub around 10% off of those figures and players will tend to convert metres to yards for this type of test, so sub-7,000 yards is a more realistic figure to work with. The greens are USGA standard and feature relatively speedy A1/A4 bentgrass that the greenkeeping staff are hoping to have around 12 on the stimpmeter by Thursday.
The fairways were narrowed for the 2013 event to present a stiffer challenge from off the tee, plus with trees and water awaiting the more errant players this track isn’t a pushover as was reflected in the scoring when Andy Sullivan won here at 11-under courtesy of some tougher conditions from the rough. The course superintendent hasn’t been so brutal with his set-up the last two renewals with 14-under (Stone) and 18-under (Storm) getting the job done, however there’s more than a subtle hint in this video from Glendower Golf Club that the course is going to be set up closer to the 2013 levels this time around which should keep a lid on the winning score.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Graeme Storm, 150/1; 2016: Brandon Stone, 55/1; 2015: Andy Sullivan, 33/1; 2013: Morten Orum Madsen, 80/1; 2012: Henrik Stenson, 14/1; 2011: Hennie Otto, 33/1; 2010: Ernie Els, 9/1. The years reflect the calendar year in which the event was played, not the European Tour season.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Johannesburg region is here. A very wet December has finally given way to more settled weather with warm and sunny conditions expected for the most part after a final dousing on Tuesday. As always at this time of year in this part of the world there’s a risk of thunderstorms, however at the time of writing that risk is fairly low and looks confined mostly to Thursday. Wind should be light throughout with a breeze of 5-10 mph hardly likely to bother the professionals.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. The 2013 event here was the first time that Glendower Golf Club had hosted the South African Open since 1997 so there’s now 4 recent years of results to review, plus it’s worth noting that the course also previously played host to the BMG Classic on the Sunshine Tour. Recent winners were: 2014: Merrick Bremner, -12 (3 rounds); 2013: Ulrich Van Den Berg, -15 (3 rounds); 2012 Teboho Sefatsa, -10 (3 rounds); 2011 James Kamte, -9 (3 rounds); 2010: Brandon Pieters, -11 (3 rounds); 2009 Graham DeLaet, -11 (3 rounds).
Analysing the winners here at Glendower for the past 4 renewals gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2017, Graeme Storm (-18). 71.4% fairways (12th), 79.6% greens in regulation (11th), 63.6% scrambling (7th), 1.63 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2016, Brandon Stone (-14). 55.4% fairways (59th), 75.0% greens in regulation (10th), 38.9% scrambling (65th), 1.67 putts per GIR (3rd).
- 2015, Andy Sullivan (-11). 47.6% fairways (41st), 68.5% greens in regulation (31st), 58.8% scrambling (5th), 1.57 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2013, Morten Orum Madsen (-19). 46.4% fairways (32nd), 80.6% greens in regulation (4th), 50% scrambling (28th), 1.71 putts per GIR (16th).
Looking at the winners and their stats above it’s clear that no common style of play is likely to favoured here, an assertion backed up by 2012 BMG Classic (Sunshine Tour event, played here at Glendower GC) winner Teboho Sefatsa who describes his home track as ‘as one of the country’s best courses‘ stating that, ‘The course does not favour the big-hitter or the deft short-game player. You need to bring an all-round game, and you need to play the course gracefully. Simply put, you need to hit straight and then follow up with quality shots.‘
The only common factor for the past 4 years has been putting: Madsen was the lowest ranking of the 4 winners at 16th in the field, however Sullivan, Stone and Storm all had excellent weeks with the flat stick. To extend that point further, all but 3 of the (recorded) players finishing inside the top 6 for all 4 renewals also finished 22nd or better for putting on the week, so getting along with these speedy bentgrass greens seems to be a must.
Par-5 scoring is another important factor at Glendower. Last year Graeme Storm was 9-under for the par 5s with his closest challengers Rory McIlory and Jordan Smith both producing 13-under totals on the long holes for the week. In 2016 Brandon Stone was -10 for the par 5s and a total of 15 players reached that mark or better for the long holes over the course of the week. In 2013 Madsen was -13 for the week on the par 5s, Kruger was -11, Otto -9, Crespi -11 and Schwartzel -10 which tells a similar story; in tougher, far wetter conditions from the rough in 2015 this was far less important though with eventual winner Andy Sullivan scoring -6 over the week on the par 5s and runner-up Charl Schwartzel one shot better at -7.
Sunday drama seems to be the norm at Glendower with both Charl Schwartzel and Hennie Otto throwing this event away in 2015 and 2013 respectively having both been in extremely commanding positions with 5 holes to play; Brandon Stone threatened to do something similar in 2016 before rallying with 4 birdies in 5 holes from the 12th to eventually win by 2 shots. Last year Graeme Storm, who’d had an 11th hour reprieve in the autumn to keep his card thanks to Patrick Reed not completing his requisite number of events, relinquished a 3-shot overnight lead to Rory McIlroy before keeping his cool on the third play-off hole to beat the former World No.1 and secure his first European Tour title for nigh-on a decade.
Incoming Form: In terms of incoming form, the winners here at Glendower had all shown some signs of life before their victory. Morten Madsen had produced a 66-64 weekend at the Dunhill Links 3 events prior to secure his hitherto biggest cheque of the season at the back end of 2013; Andy Sullivan had also bagged his biggest earning week 3 events earlier by finishing 4th in Turkey; Brandon Stone had secured his first professional title (Lion of Africa Cape Town Open) 2 events prior to winning here in 2016 and Graeme Storm had produced his best effort of the calendar year by finishing 4th at Leopard Creek 2 events before winning here last year:
- Graeme Storm: 17/7/71/36/62/MC/MC/25/MC/22/4/MC
- Brandon Stone: 7/35/2/9/6/12/MC/23/MC/6/1/18
- Andy Sullivan: MC/52/11/MC/3/17/51/47/67/4/21/MC
- Morten Orum Madsen: 28/58/38/24/MC/14/MC/MC/16/12/51/63
Course Form (back to 2009): Course form doesn’t look overly relevant this week although that assertion can be tempered by the fact that aside from the Sunshine Tour regulars, opportunities to play Glendower prior to Morten Madsen’s win were few and far between. Brandon Stone’s course form is perhaps the most revealing as he’d missed the cut twice before winning on his third attempt; Andy Sullivan, on the other hand, after recording course form of 12/1 has subsequently missed the cut twice here:
- Graeme Storm: MC/32
- Brandon Stone: MC/MC
- Andy Sullivan: 12
- Morten Orum Madsen: Debut
Although the European Tour season is already 4 events down, the festive break means a downing of tools for most golfers and for all intents and purposes players are starting the season for real here this week and next in Abu Dhabi. Some players can hit the ground running after a break, others may be rusty after focussing on partying rather than sharpening their games over the past few weeks. Nevertheless this is an important and prestigious title, especially for the South Africans, and many will be looking to get 2018 off to a flying start with a contending performance here.
Thicker rough and fast greens will offer the course some protection this year, however a calm forecast and relatively soft conditions on the fairways will balance that to a large degree and I’d expect aggressive players who can keep enough of their drives in play from off the tee to thrive here this week. Despite being set up to reward accuracy, the key to unlocking this course has been to attack the par 5s and putt well on the slick bentgrass greens whilst minimising errors from tee-to-green. I suspect that players of any particular style could contend this week, however those with the ability to take on and score on the long holes having kept the ball in play from off the tee are my favoured route.