So after my last check-in at Manchester airport, and the way they emptied my wallet over excess baggage, I was pretty tense in Dubai airport whilst checking in at 1am Monday!
But somehow I managed to get my luggage onto the plane and not get charged excess at all! Luckily this time I didn’t have my hand luggage weighed; it only looks like a normal rucksack but I’m travelling with at least 20kg in there as the Trackman I recently invested in weighs around 10kg on its own!!
On top of not being charged I managed to change my seat to an extra leg room seat, and at the time that felt like such a result!! 8 hours to Joburg with unlimited leg room!
So getting on the plane I made myself comfy, closed my eyes, only to wake up just after take-off to see the plane pretty much empty and to find out I had missed the opportunity of sleeping across 4 seats as most people were!
Anyway, I think I got 5 hours sleep in the early part of the flight, so on landing I didn’t feel too bad!
With the time difference it was around 11.30am when I left the airport, to then be greeted by Steve my caddy and Oli Briggs (Daniel Im’s caddy) and from there we headed off on a four-hour drive up to Leopard Creek!
Some players fly from Joburg to a town an hour away, but that makes getting away SUNDAY night tricky as the timings are very tight!!
On stepping out of the car at the golf club we were hit by the heat!!!
Over the course of the week it reached 41 degrees at times and with not much wind that felt like an oven, and made Dubai feel like a cold winter’s day at home!
I pretty much left straight away for the accommodation in a courtesy car and left Steve up there to talk golf with the caddies and head back to his B&B in his own time!
I was back at Kambaku Lodge; we stayed there last year, it is incredible, it’s on Crocodile River, which sits inside the Kruger National Park – the view is just amazing! And Leanne the owner looks after us like we were her own!
Tuesday was Pro-Am day, and for the first time I was 1st reserve ‘on site’, which meant I had to be around from first tee off until the last group had played nine holes.
If anyone withdrew before or mid round I was there to stand in…not ideal, as it changed my preparation plans and also meant I missed out on the par 3 tournament on the new course where you were playing for £10k 1st prize and top 30 players also getting paid!!
I did get €300 for the inconvenience which I guess covered my excess baggage problems but in an ideal world I would have played 9 holes on the Tour course, the par 3 tournament which would then have freed me up to only play 9 holes Wednesday, and stay out of the heat the day before the event.
But it then meant Tuesday was my constructive practice day where I went through my list of areas which needed some attention and plenty visits to the players’ lounge to enjoy the air conditioning – I did get everything done!!
Wednesday I was up early and played 18 holes; last year I probably didn’t give the course the credit it was due and I was probably distracted by the wildlife and the Kruger Park!
This year the course has grown on me tremendously or maybe I’ve just been more open to it! It’s fantastic, there are so many great holes out there, and the condition is out of this world!! I couldn’t wait to get out there Thursday in the event and play it again!!
But after witnessing the storm Wednesday night I was sure we wouldn’t be playing Thursday, but we did and with no preferred lies! The course held up amazingly, and then to have a repeat storm Thursday evening with hail stones the size of large marbles, it was again unbelievable how Friday was not affected!
Round 1 for me went nicely, I played really solid, and most importantly stayed very patient!
It’s hard not to get frustrated when you’re giving yourself plenty opportunities but sometimes in golf that’s just the way it goes, putting especially is such fine margins!!
In the end I shot 69 (-3) which was a nice start to the 2017 season and one I could hopefully build on!
I certainly did build on it in round 2… starting on the first I missed a really good chance for birdie, but I didn’t have to wait long to open my birdie account, I hit my best three wood of the year down the second onto the par 5 which set up a straightforward two putt birdie.
Three more birdies on 3, 6 and 9 and I turned in -4 and was cruising along nicely.
I played 10 and 11 perfectly and made two more birdies, then holed an 18ft putt on 14 to get to -7 for the round.
My game was pretty solid, and my focus was really good. I then got a little bit unlucky on 15 when my drive was slightly out of position and held on the bank of the bunker, a couple of poor shots later I found the water and made a great up and down from 100 yards for bogey!!
Sometimes bogeys feel like birdies and that one did, keeping my momentum.
An interesting and very unorthodox par down 17 but I followed that by a nice birdie to finish on the island green 18!!
Walking off the course and signing for my European Tour career low score was nice, and I think the lowest score of the day. It moved me up to T2nd and set me up for a fun weekend!!
Saturday was a mixed bag, but a birdie birdie finish was great! I also made it into the top 5 shots of the day with a 9 iron on the 17th to a foot!
Then I played the last really sensibly as a three shot hole to the dangerous flag position and made a great birdie, whilst watching George Coetzee make 9, as it showed with the pin position that disaster was lurking!!
So 68 (-4) to keep me in the mix at T2nd three back from the leader Brandon Stone.
So last round, last group, and it was great to be back in this position; a main aim this year is to keep putting myself in contention and knocking on the door, and then look forward to walking through it!!
This week it wasn’t to be; it was a little trickier with the wind and pin positions, but after a lost ball down the 2nd, and then a poor tee shot down the 4th I was soon on the back foot!
I played some good stuff in and amongst it and made three good birdies on the back nine, but with three bogeys and a poor one down 18 I signed for +4 and fell back to T11th.
- I just realised I birdied the 10th everyday – always nice to have a full house!!
So putting aside the last round, it’s been a great start to the year, my game has shown so many signs of promise, and maybe the no ‘real’ golf for 4 weeks before SA took its toll in round 4….
Who knows, but I know where my focus is for this week in Hong Kong, and I’m looking forward to the new challenge in another new country!!!!
- I must say a huge congrats to Brandon for the win, he controlled his game and emotions fantastically well all day and to collect his second title of 2016 and only at the age of 23 is pretty special!
On a totally different and very sad note, I mentioned a while back about the many caddies out on tour, the characters, the stories, the nicknames and for the first time this week I met ‘pin high Pedro’ – we shared a courtesy car back on Tuesday evening. He told some great stories on \Angel Cabrera and his life on Tour and seemed a really\s\ genuine bloke.
So to then see a text after I had played Thursday that he was found dead in his hotel room Wednesday evening after suffering a heart attack was nearly impossible to believe!!
My thoughts go to his family!! RIP