Sunshine Tour

SA Open: All the stats and facts ahead of the historic tournament

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South African golfer Christiaan Bezuidenhout on the fairway
South African golfer Christiaan Bezuidenhout on the fairway
Carl Fourie/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images

The South African Open Championship tees off from Thursday at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.

It's the final event for the Sunshine Tour this year following the cancellation of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.

156 golfers are entered into a mostly dominated South African field as they vie for a prize fund of $500 000 (R8 million).

This week's South African Open in Sun City will be broadcast live on SuperSport (Channel 201, 213) from Thursday at 12:00. 

Sport24 looks at some of the stats and facts ahead of Thursday's opening round and the featured groupings to watch out for.

The rich history

The SA Open, which dates back to 1903, is rich with history, as it's the second oldest national Open in golf behind the Open Championship.

Nine-time major winner and World Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player has won a whopping 13 SA Open titles between 1956 and 1981 - the most by any golfer.

Another Hall of Famer Bobby Locke holds the record for the youngest SA Open winner when he won in 1935 at the age of 17. Locke has won the national Open nine times and holds the record for the most consecutive wins, with five.

This is also the first time since 1996 that the SA Open will not be co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour.

Coronavirus' impact on this year's Open

Unlike last year's tournament, this week's SA Open has been heavily clouded by the ongoing pandemic.

Last week's Joburg Open was cut prematurely short after the United Kingdom and several European countries had enforced travel bans from South Africa. This comes after SA scientists identified a new Covid-19 variant, Omnicron, in the country.

It forced the SA Open to be a sole Sunshine Tour event, which not only saw the field but the prize fund significantly affected.

In the build-up to this week's tournament in Sun City, four South African golfers tested positive for coronavirus and had been forced to withdraw.

Despite the ongoing virus, the Sunshine Tour has committed to its most prestigious event with plenty of Covid-19 protocols put in place.

This week, some vaccinated South African fans will get their opportunity to watch the action at Gary Player Country Club. In an interview with Sunshine Tour commissioner Thomas Abt, he stated that tickets would be issued through the Tour's sponsors and partners like Sun International.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Christiaan Bezuidenhout wins 2020 SA Open Championship

It's a star-studded field

Despite several European players back home, this week's SA Open field is still a star-studded affair with multiple local stars eager to host the title.

Bezuidenhout, who cruised to victory last year in Sun City, will look to defend his title. The Tokyo Olympian is also the highest-ranked golfer in the field and currently sits 48th in the world.

READ | Bezuidenhout eager to defend as 'thankful' Frittelli eyes SA Open title

Another Olympian is Garrick Higgo, who was one of SA's biggest golf stars this year after his back-to-back wins on the European Tour and maiden PGA Tour title in May.

Then there's no denying the in-form Dean Burmester, who cruised to the Tenerife Open title in Spain and won the SA PGA Championship last month.

DP World Tour winners Justin Harding and Daniel van Tonder are also in the field. Long-driving Wilco Nienaber, who won his maiden Sunshine Tour event at Fancourt this year, is also looking to win his national Open.

Despite not winning this year so far, Dylan Frittelli is another massive contender to hoist his first SA Open title. Frittelli, who is a regular on the PGA Tour, finished T12 at last week's Joburg Open and hopes to achieve his life-long goal this week.

Did you know?
Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Dylan Frittelli are the only South African golfers in the field this week, who have played in all four Majors this year.

Meanwhile, several amateurs seek to close out their year with the Freddie Tait Cup, which is awarded to the leading amateur of the week. Casey Jarvis won the trophy last year after finishing T25 and hopes to win it again come Sunday.

Also Scottish golfer David Drysdale decided to stay in South Africa and is in the SA Open field this week as he and his caddie wife planned to stay with friends in Johannesburg over Christmas.

What they are saying ahead of SA Open:

"It was critically important for us to have this event on our calendar, it's one of the world's oldest Opens and it's one of the events we pride ourselves in, It's one of the trophies that so many players want to win and you'll see from the field, you have Garrick Higgo, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester, Justin Harding are playing in this event." - Sunshine Tour commissioner Thomas Abt

"To win the South African Open is any South African golfer's dream... Covid-19 has made things a bit different. But I can tell you one thing that hasn’t changed – it’s still going to be an incredible honour for the golfer who lifts that trophy on Sunday." - Hennie du Plessis

"I've got to get my name on the SA Open trophy before I stop playing golf. Maybe it's a bit easier this week not having the Europeans here, but I'm more thankful that the tournament is going ahead. I remember qualifying at the age of 16 years old and getting in the field for the SA Open at Humewood. Ernie Els won that week. That was my first taste of SA Open golf. In my opinion, you always come back and you play in your national Open." - Dylan Frittelli

"It's one of those tournaments that never weighs off. It would probably be the most treasured tournament in South African golf. Coming back to Sun City and having won the SA Open before, means the world to me." - James Kingston

Featured opening round pairings (*10th hole tee):

07:00* - Zander Lombard, Dean Burmester, Jaco Ahlers

07:10 - Garrick Higgo, Martin Vorster, Casey Jarvis (a)

07:10* - Hennie Otto, Brandon Stone, James Kingston

12:00 - Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Christiaan Maas (a), Thriston Lawrence

12:00* - George Coetzee, Shaun Norris, Dylan Frittelli

12:10 - Jacques Kruyswijk, Daniel van Tonder, Estiaan Conradie

12:10* - Justin Harding, Dylan Naidoo, Neil Schietekat

12:30* - Ockie Strydom, Ruan Conradie, Wilco Nienaber

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