Watch out Tshwane - Jean's back!
Charl Schwartzel tees his ball up on the final day of the Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour in April 2010 at Gardener Ross Golf and Country Estate (now the Els Club Copperleaf) with a two-stroke lead. He shoots a 65. How much did he win by you ask? Surely no one could have got near him?
Wrong. One of South Africa’s most underrated talents, Jean Hugo, began to chase him down. And, two eagles and six birdies later, he was signing for a sensational round of 62 to pocket the winner’s cheque - much to Schwartzel’s (and everyone else’s) disbelief.
“That day we played was in the winter, and this is in the summer so it’s playing much longer at the moment,” Hugo recalled. “But I certainly do think about it to be honest. It was a couple of years back, but it’s good memories for me. It was obviously a special day, and I’m proud of what I achieved in that event – it was a great win.”
But it was more than just a great win. It was a glimpse of Hugo’s remarkable ability, and perhaps proof that the Stellenbosch-born professional has underachieved in his career. Ernie Els would seem to agree, given his words at the 2010 South African Open at Durban Country Club.
“Jean Hugo has got more talent in his little finger than I do in my whole body.”
A warm sentiment indeed from the now four-time major winner. But while some may feel Hugo could have accomplished more in his tenure as a professional, his record remains nothing to be sneezed at. The 37-year old has amassed more than R5.6 million in prize money on the Sunshine Tour, and boasts 13 career victories. Three wins in 2011 capped off a sensational year that saw him finish sixth on the Order of Merit, and it is for these reasons that Hugo is a force to be reckoned with every time he tees his ball up.
This week he returns to the scene of his triumph over Schwartzel for the inaugural Tshwane Open. The name of the course may have changed in the three years since, but the layout has not, and Hugo is once again making waves on a course he clearly enjoys. An opening round of 67 put him right in the mix, and he continued his charge with three birdies on his outward nine in round two. Two bogeys on the inward stretch took the gloss of his scorecard, but, at six-under par, he finds himself handily placed.
“It was quite windy this morning, overcast, and there was a bit of rain around. So it wasn’t as easy as yesterday, because when it’s hotter the ball goes a bit further. But all in all we still had a good day because the course is playing soft and you really have to get a good tee shot away otherwise you’re going to have long shots in,” Hugo explained.
He continued: “It still felt pretty good today. I started off well and I was three under after six, and even then I still missed a few chances. Then I made a few bogeys coming in which was a pity, but tomorrow is another day. You never know – if those putts go in, you’re always in with a chance come Sunday.”
The man to catch at this stage is Charl Coetzee, whose second-round 65 catapulted him into the lead at 12-under for the tournament. But Hugo proved in 2010 why it would be foolhardy to ever count him out, and, even six strokes adrift, he is still someone to contend with this week.
“It was a great test this morning. I know there were some good scores out there, but overall I’m very pleased with where I am on the leaderboard and hopefully good things happen on the weekend,” he said.
“I like this course a lot. I live nearby, so we come play here often. It’s a great challenge, but hopefully this week I can do something similar to what I did back then.”