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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  It's an old town with little tourism so many hotels are outdated.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 putts.
 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.