Tough time on the greens makes for frustrating weekend in East London
I was surprised by how hot it was in East London when I arrived
on Monday. It was the first time in 4 years I had played the
tournament and I had some good memories. I finished 2nd to
Goosen when it was just a Sunshine Tour event in 2009. I
quite liked the old fashioned course, links layout in the sand
dunes but with softer grasses that can survive in this heat.
Tuesday was a case of getting my equipment ready, grips wear out
from hitting balls and sun damage dries them very quickly so I
change them approximately every 5weeks. David, who works for
Mizuno, has been following the Sunshine Tour around the country in
his van for 20 years. Some weeks he has a 15 hour drive
around the country. He single handidly looks after some very
demanding players. He stocks a new softer compound grip which
I really like, the golf pride vdr. I find my callouses are
much smaller after getting this grip on, so I left clubs in for him
to do them on Monday afternoon. He works like a dog and had
200 players the week before at the Joburg Open.
Accommodation is tough in East London. It's an old town with
little tourism so many hotels are outdated. I remembered that
the players' hotel did not get great reviews from the lads the last
time so Bev booked me into the convention centre hotel which had a
much better review on Booking .com. The main thing was it was
clean and the aircon worked. The B and B I stayed in
last time was v hot and sometimes you don't want to speak to the
landlords and just head to your room after a long hot day on the
course; that's easier in a hotel. It is a truly beautiful
place with some fantastic beaches right on the Indian Ocean.
Ken and I went for a walk along the boardwalk watching the local
surfers tackle much bigger waves than in Portballantrae.
I played 9 holes on Tuesday, slipping out on the 10th illegally;
you're meant to start on the first but there was a queue and I
joined Gregory Bourdy for 9 holes on the way back in.
Gregory's caddy had a caddy. It's funny because it's so cheap
in South Africa and the course is so hilly, some of the caddies
decided to save their energy for the tournament so they hire a
local caddy for the practice days. It also enables them to
check the yardages on the course and mark down lots of other
details as the yardage books we get in SA are very basic compared
to those Dion Stevens gives us every week on Tour. We are
used to the extremely detailed book we get for the rest of the
events so it's a little strange to go back to a very basic set
up. This year the yardages were basically correct.
Gerry thought sweating up the hills would be good preparation for
the week and it would hit the caddies with helpers hard on Thursday
after their first round carrying the bag.
I played in the Wednesday Pro-am at 11am in a shot gun
start. We had 3 nice people and it was a very relaxed affair
apart from the heat which cranked up in the afternoon to
approximately 33degrees. 5 hours in that is not fun.
The team played ok but we were not good enough on the greens which
were slow and bumpy. They were definitely not as quick as 4
years ago although I holed a few putts one for eagle on 15.
I'm not entirely sure why this seems to happen for me more in the
Pro-am than the tournament, I think it's because I'm a bit more
relaxed, it's really just a sociable game of golf. It's
something Gerry and I are working hard on and I definitely need to
cultivate this approach for tournaments! I had Physio and was
home at 6pm. Marnus, from Pro Golf Health is originally from
Pretoria and he enjoyed being back in SA, he now lives in
California and works mainly on the PGA tour. He says it's a
more serious atmosphere and there is a lot less banter, I guess too
much money gets in the way!
Bev's parents, Audrey and Ken came to watch. They had been
on a safari in Shamwari about 2 hours away so they wanted to
combine their holiday with watching me. It was the first time
without Bev, but it was good to have them around. They saw
the "big 5" animals at the park so were happy and enjoyed their
first time to South Africa, especially as they were missing the
worst of the weather back home.
Thursday was a good ball striking display for me, I had lots of
birdie chances and 3 under was the worst I could have done 6 would
have been justified. I just couldn't get to grips with the
slow greens, I'm not sure if my putter had too little loft as you
need more loft on slower greens or if it was just the big change
from Middle East fast surfaces. The key is always putting;
George Coetzee and Thomas Aiken aren't the best ball strikers but
they are incredible putters! If it doesn't go in it's a slow lip
out from 30 feet! Dawie van der Walt is also a very good
putter and the ball rolls so well even on poor surfaces; he shot 3
also. I left consoling myself that the greens would be better
in the morning.
I hit it lovely on Friday, the swing is getting more efficient and
I could have made 5 birdies in a row at the start but a couple of
lip outs left me very frustrated and 3 under after 6 holes. I
hit 3 iron shots all over the flag. The rain arrived
unusually and we had a 1hr 30 delay. When we started again I
just lost concentration for a few minutes and it cost me with a
couple of under hit shots on the 17th resulting in a double
bogey. I think it was a lack of water; I stopped drinking
when play stopped and when I downed 2 bottles on the course I felt
much better! I recovered with 4birdies to make the cutt by a
couple in the end. The cutt was 5 under and they are getting
harder and harder to make as there are so many good young players
out on Tour now. A few years ago this cutt would have been
3. It was a long hot day and we only arrived back at the
hotel at 5pm. It can start to feel a bit like Groundhog Day
when you eat the same food; dinner buffet at the hotel. They
didn't have an a la carte menu which is very strange for the best
hotel in town! Audrey and Ken prefer their food very hot and
were not as enthused by the buffet but it suited me and they were
here for my work week! Plus being Valentine's Day everywhere
else in town was fully booked!
The rain delay meant the boys had to finish round two at 830am
Saturday morning and that we'd have a "u-draw" 2 tee start, the
earliest tee-time being about 940. I played at 10am with a young
American lad, Daniel Im. It was nice to hear how much he
enjoyed the tournament at Galgorm last year; he said playing in
front of big crowds was great. There were far fewer people at
East London than Galgorm! It was another good ball striking
display from me but with 34 putts I finished very frustrated!
I couldn't buy one of the 8 to 10 footers for birdie. Days
like this feel like a total waste. I was getting lapped
by the field but it was windy and that reflected my play.
It's also tough when your playing partners are holing a lot of
I went back to the hotel dejected and decided to change my
putter for Sunday to one with more loft and weight in it. Ken
dropped me to the course on Sunday morning but some of the roads
were closed as there was a cycle race on at the same time, the
planning wasn't good. We nearly got lost and ended up taking
30mins for the 5min drive. Ken ended up following some,
Finnish golfers on the way back to pick up Audrey; it felt like my
challenge tour days all over again!
The day was similar to the rest of the week although I got to 3
under with a couple more putts holed and some lovely ball striking,
then I ran outta energy. Gerry had to stay in bed on Sunday
with a bad dose of diarrhoea. I think 12 of the caddies were
ill. Thankfully Stephen Byrne carried the bag for me as his
player; Kevin Phelan had missed the cut. Stephen was great
with the clubbing. My stomach wasn't the best I had to run into the
bushes on the course. It wasn't a pleasant feeling and I got
a bit tired at the end so 1 under was probably good.
All in all it was a strange week but an enjoyable one and you have
to take the positives from whatever you can in this game, you
really need to be the eternal optimist! I'd just like to say
thanks to everyone for all their kind birthday messages on Facebook
and Twitter; it was a very low key dinner on Thursday night and
early to bed.
I picked up a rental car from the airport and drove Gerry who was
asleep in the passenger seat 3 hours to Port Elizabeth. We
stayed there for the night before driving on down to George.
It's a total of 620 km along part of the garden route. I'm
playing in the Dimension Data Pro-am this week; it's a Sunshine
Tour event which fits in nicely to our schedule. It was too
far to come home for a few days and then back to Pretoria, so it's
another long old 3 weeks on the road without the girls but its good
practice for the golf.