Ernie can make George’s life easier
He’s missed the cut twice in the last four years, but Ernie Els is still the man South African contenders should turn to ahead of the US Open which gets under way on Thursday at the Lake Course at Olympic Club in San Francisco.
And 25-year-old George Coetzee played a practice round with the two-time US Open champion Els on Wednesday to get a few pointers on a course which has got all the players a little tentative ahead of the year’s second major.
Not only does the Olympic Club have a 670-yard par-five in the 16th – even big-hitting Masters champion Bubba Watson was still 60 yards short after two good hits with his driver in a practice round – but the slopes of the fairways and greens, as well as shaved runoff areas make staying on the greens something of an achievement, even if the players do manage to hit them in regulation.
The complexity of solutions needed to deal with that kind of difficulty is the kind of thing that only experience can bring – and the two missed cuts in recent years that Els has experienced at the US Open have a real bearing on how to go about playing a tournament like the US Open.
For, in addition to his two victories in a major widely touted as the one which is perennially the toughest test of golf, he has six other top-10 finishes to his name – and two more missed cuts.
And he followed his 1994 title with one of those missed cuts – and managed to finish in just a share of 49th after his 1997 win.
The point to be learned by Coetzee in all of this is that you have to take your bumps with a greater degree of equanimity when you play the US Open, and Els can speak with authority in that subject after taking a lot of golfing bumps over the last few years.
That he is regarded as a serious contender again this year – he missed the cut last year after his third-place finish behind Graeme McDowell the year before – speaks to his golfing nous as well as a personal resilience that a youngster like Coetzee would do well to emulate.
Not that Coetzee is a complete golfing neophyte: He played in The Open Championship last year with some distinction, finishing 15th after being inside the top 10 going into the final round. He has come close to winning a maiden title on the European Tour on a number of occasions over the past two years and he has four Sunshine Tour titles to his credit.
Els and Coetzee represent the two extremes of the South African challenge at Olympic: Although Els is not the oldest South African in the field (Retief Goosen is a year older than him, and is also a two-time US Open champion) and Coetzee not the youngest (Branden Grace is 23), they personify the two generations of great golfers this country has sent abroad to conquer the world.
With those four players, there are three others, each of whom have won majors, and one who has won a title widely dubbed ‘the fifth major’: Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have tasted victory in the Masters and The Open, while Tim Clark won the 2010 Players Championship.
Current form aside, they are all players who would not surprise should they contend this week – as long as they do not succumb to the inevitable setbacks thrown at them by the tough Lake Course.