Sweden’s Julia Engström will be gunning for back-to-back titles when she leads the international line-up in the Sunshine Ladies Tour season-finale South African Women’s Open from Thursday.
A fortnight ago, the 18-year-old became the second teenager to win in as many events on the 2020 Ladies European Tour.
Engström lifted the Women’s New South Wales Open title, following on from 17-year-old Australian amateur Steph Kyriacou’s triumph in the Australian Ladies Classic Bonville. The early Race to Costa Del Sol frontrunner is ready to draw on the fond memories of her last visit to Cape Town 12 months ago, when she finished seventh at Westlake Golf Club.
“The South African Women’s Open was a great start to the year and set me up for a terrific season,” said Engström, who finished 20th on last year’s Order of Merit.
“I really enjoyed playing at Westlake Golf Club last year and played pretty well. The course is quite similar to Dubbo Golf Club in New South Wales in a way, where I won two weeks ago. It’s not as tight, but it just as tree-lined. Set against Table Mountain, there are breath-taking views on every hole. It’s also quite a lot windier! Hopefully I can play well again this year as I would love to finish within the top five on the 2020 Race to Costa Del Sol.”
The SA Women’s Open, dating back to 1988, is the oldest and most prestigious professional women’s golf tournament in South Africa.
The 2020 edition, hosted by the City of Cape Town at Westlake Golf Club for a third successive year, will offer prize money of €200 000 (approximately R3 160 288).
The traditional parklands layout at the foot of Table Mountain has proved a happy hunting ground for both rising and established stars of the game the last two years.
Indian teenager Diksha Dagar from India was propelled to instant stardom when she won in just her fourth professional start last year. The 18-year-old tapped in for par on the final hole to edge out former three-time champion Lee-Anne Pace by a stroke last year.
Dagar feels that her game is in good shape ahead of her title defence.
“It feels so good to be here in Cape Town and it brings back good memories from last year. I hope I will play well again this year,” said 19-year-old left-hander from New Delhi. “My game has improved and I feel much stronger. I’m very confident, playing well and I believe I can defend the title.”
Dagar rose to 14th on the Race to Costa Del Sol following a tie for 32nd in the season-opening Australian Ladies Classic Bonville and joint seventh in the Women’s New South Wales Open.
She has been working hard on her fitness to achieve her main goal for the year – representing India in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – and it’s a goal she is likely to achieve, sitting in 56th position amongst the field of 60 on the Olympic Golf Rankings at present.
Qualification would be a phenomenal achievement in itself after she represented India at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics, where she earned a silver medal.
“The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world and it would be such an honour to represent India. I am so excited about the Olympics this year. My goal is to keep playing well and to play my best to earn my spot in the field in Japan.”
Meanwhile South Africa’s own Ashleigh Buhai, who won the title twice as an amateur and remains the youngest champion at age 14, will be representing South Africa for a second time the Olympics. The 30-year-old wrote her name into the record books in 2018 when she won the national title for a third time to equal Pace’s hat-trick of titles.
The field of 132 professionals from 26 countries includes seven players from the top 20 on the current Race to Costa Del Sol Rankings including Engström (1), Manon de Roey from Belgium (2), Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson (13), Dagar (14), Saana Nuutinen from Finland (16), Scotland’s Michele Thomson (17) and Meghan MacLaren from England (20).
Buhai, who went wire-to-wire in the Jabra Ladies Classic at Glendower last week, leads a strong local challenge that includes all six champions from the current Sunshine Ladies Tour season – Pace (Cape Town Ladies Open), Lejan Lewthwaite (SuperSport Ladies Challenge and Dimension Data Ladies Pro-Am), Scotland’s Jane Turner (Standard Bank SA Women’s Masters), Nicole Garcia (Canon Serengeti Par-3 Challenge), Monique Smit (Joburg Ladies Open) and, as well as the current Order of Merit leader Stacy Bregman.
The field will be cut to 60 and ties after 36 holes and the champion will be crowned on Saturday, 14 March.
In addition to the lion’s share of the purse, the winner receives a Winner’s Category exemption on the Ladies European Tour until the end of 2021, starts in two Majors this year – the Women’s British Open and Evian Championship.
At the conclusion of the SA Women’s Open, the winner of the 2020 Order of Merit will also be crowned and receive a bonus prize of R100 000.