17 September 2013
Defending champion Henrik Stenson will spearhead the international challenge at the 103rd South African Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg from 21 to 24 November.
When Stenson lifted the prestigious trophy at the Serengeti Golf Estate last year, the current world number six promised his delighted fans to come back to defend his SA Open title and he is making good on his word – even if it means that he won’t be teeing it up for Sweden in the World Cup over the same weekend.
“You are going to let someone down, no matter what you do,” the current leader of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai said a statement.
“I have great memories of my win last year and South Africa has been very kind to me in the past. I look forward to my title defence in November and I hope the SA Open will spark another great year for me.”
South African Golf Association president Andre Pieterse welcomed the Swede’s decision. “As the custodians of the South African Open Championship, we are proud of all our past champions and we welcome Henrik’s decision to come back and defend his title,” he said.
“Our amateurs are always looking for idols to aspire to and Henrik has definitely inspired, not only with his success since last year, but with his grit, determination and work ethic,” Pieterse said. “He has been an exceptional ambassador for our national Open and the game of golf.”
The South African Open Championship is not only one of the most historic national Opens in the world, but also has a great reputation for the quality of its fields, hosting courses and its tremendous list of champions. It is a title golfers want on their CVs, for good things inevitably follow for the winners of the SA Open. Just ask Stenson.
The 37-year-old is a prime example of the wonderful spoils that could follow victory in the world’s second oldest national Open.
When he teed it up in the SA Open at Serengeti last year, Stenson was ranked 230th in the world rankings and 59th on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. Just a week before the lucrative World Tour Championship, Stenson was pinning his hopes on a good enough finish to make the season finale, limited to the top 60 in the rankings.
“It’s hard to say what I need to do to get in, but I just knew that I had to play this week if I wanted to have a chance,” he said midway through the 102nd SA Open.
“It’s very tight and obviously with guys playing in Hong Kong at the same time, it’s like a bit of a hornet’s nest.
“There’s no point sitting here trying to calculate what others do. It’s better to focus on your own game and a top three here will definitely take care of that.”
In the last two rounds, the Swede suddenly found the top form that had been eluding him. He held off a strong challenge from South African George Coetzee to win by three strokes and break a three-year victory drought stretching back to his triumph at the 2009 Players Championship.
“It’s been so long since my last win that you begin to think, ‘Is there ever going to be another one?’, but you need to put a lot in to get decent results out,” he said after his victory last year.
Stenson took the form he showed on South African soil abroad and earned nearly €175 000 for finishing in a tie for seventh in the World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Since then, he has been a regular member of the top 10 on the European Tour and has finished in the top three in his last four starts – the Scottish Open, the Open Championship, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship.
His form on the PGA Tour has been equally impressive, with victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship at the start of the month rounding off a season that includes a top-five finish at the Players’ Championship, considered to be the “fifth major”.
“There’s never a bad time to win a golf tournament, I know that much,” Stenson said after his recent win at the TPC Boston, but it seems his SA Open triumph was especially timeous.
One of the hottest
The 37-year-old is undoubtedly one of the hottest golfers in the world at the moment, borne out by his position atop Europe’s Race to Dubai and his ninth place in the Fedex Cup standings in America.
Sunshine Tour executive director Selwyn Nathan called Stenson’s participation a mark of respect. “By coming back to defend his title, Henrik is showing the South African Open Championship, this country and the golf fans amazing respect,” Nathan said.
“Players worldwide can take a feather from his cap. Henrik has surged back into the top 10 in the world on the back of winning the SA Open last year and by coming back to defend his title, he not only acknowledges that the South African Open Championship provided the platform that re-launched his career, but he is giving the tournament the respect and credit it deserves.
“This is where it all began and that is what I would call a true ambassador of the game of golf.”
David Williams, Tournament Director of the South African Open Championship, commented: “It’s tremendous news for the tournament and South African golf fans that Henrik is coming back to defend his title.
“In some ways his dramatic rise up the World Ranking this year can be traced back to his win at last year’s SA Open Championship. It was his first win on the European Tour for five years, and since then he has come close to winning The Open Championship and the US PGA Championship, has won on the US PGA Tour and is leading The Race to Dubai.
“It has been a very welcome return to form for one of the game’s most likeable characters, and I’m sure Henrik would himself agree that his victory at Serengeti last year was the first step on his road to recovery.”