Johannesburg – It’s not often that a defending champion has much less chance of repeating that feat, but that’s exactly the case for Thriston Lawrence this week at the Joburg Open starting on Thursday at Houghton Golf Club.
The venue for the tournament has moved from Randpark to Houghton, and the event last year was also shortened to 36 holes instead of 72. That was due to bad weather and also the rise of a new Covid-19 variant during the tournament, that resulted in the SA borders closing within a matter of days.
Now facing a full event of four rounds, at a vastly different layout, the odds are stacked against the 25-year-old who made the Joburg Open his first DP World Tour (DPWT) victory.
“I had a great season last year, and it feels funny because it’s just a few days later. It’s good to be back, and it’s also the first time I’m defending. And defending a tournament (title) that changed my life,” said Lawrence.
Listen to his thoughts here: pic.twitter.com/WmFo8Irj9X
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“It’s a way different course to Randpark. It’s probably a little easier tee to green, but once you’re on the greens, they’re very slopey. I think they’re going to firm up and be quite quick so it’s a way different setting.”
As for the quality of the fields in the co-sanctioned Sunshine and DPWT events, Lawrence said it was the perfect way for local players to gauge their games against some of the best professionals in the world.
“It’s an opportunity for the SA guys to compare ourselves to the players out there in Europe. It’s stronger competition and more world ranking points.
“My short term goals are to stick to the gameplan and do what I did last year. You don’t want to look at the long term goals really. Everybody wants to win, (I want) to copy-paste on a good season last year.”
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Lawrence has since added another DPWT title to his name when he triumphed in the European Masters in Switzerland in August. It meant the DPWT rookie ended as the top SA player on the season long moneylist in 14th position overall. The next best SA player was Oliver Bekker in 36th place.
One SA player that could well be the favourite this week is Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Having already played four events on the new US PGA Tour season, the 28-year-old has a best finish of 20th but already, and impressively, ranks first in strokes gained around the green. His short game will be particularly important at Houghton Golf Club, and could make him one of the favourites this week.
Bezuidenhout, the 74th-ranked player in the world, also finished fifth at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last week which should mean he could quite easily make a fast start at the Joburg Open.
Another added incentive this week at the Joburg Open is that it serves as the first qualifier for the 151st Open Championship next year at Royal Liverpool. The top three finishers at the end of the week will be granted exemptions into the oldest tournament in all of golf.