THIS time in 2022 we’ll be sinking back into the sofa, recovering from the latest Ryder Cup, and if the images and video released of the host course, Marco Simone, are anything to go by, Europe is all set to eagerly recreate Le Golf National in Rome for the clash.
Visually, at least, it’s a definite case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – the meadow grass is high, the mounds are too, and there’s plenty of water to restrict from the tee. It’s enough to make the Americans twitch like Inspector Dreyfuss in the Pink Panther. But enough of the future, this week the Italian Open takes place across the city at Olgiata GC.
In the 21st century Olgiata has hosted the European Tour once (the 2002 edition of this championship when Ian Poulter won) and the Challenge Tour five times (Edoardo Molinari won in 2009). It’s a tree-lined track and whilst the Irishman is most famous for winning the Irish Open on the links as an amateur in 2009 and the Open this year at Royal Portrush, he’s a very accomplished performer among the trees. Down the years he has collected seven top 15s at Wentworth, four top 20s at Valderrama, a win at Firestone, second at Woburn and even a pair of thirds at Phoenix in Japan.
In the aftermath of lifting the Claret Jug there was an inevitable hangover (literal and metaphorical you suspect) and so he took a month off. On return, at the BMW PGA Championship, his opening 72 left him just outside the cut mark and he improved all week for T11th. A week later a Thursday 73 in the Dunhill Links had him outside the top 100, but again he made excellent progress to finish T15th. The rust has been knocked off and this week’s challenge should suit – Lowry’s a solid option at the head of the market.
“On the tee from Ireland, the Rolex Series winner in Abu Dhabi. The Open Champion, Shane Lowry.”
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) September 19, 2019
There’s been a touch of Branden Grace about the graduation of Erik Van Rooyen from Challenge Tour performer to European Tour winner. Because although both impressed on the second tier, neither exactly ripped it up and yet when they reached the top level they were immediately at home there. Van Rooyen made five top tens last year on his way to 38th in the rankings and has improved in his second season to six top tens and a current position of seventh in the Race to Dubai. He differs from Grace in having taken a little longer to win, but now he’s grabbed one the second might come along sooner rather than later.
Like Lowry, he can play among the trees, with top five finishes at Randpark, Silkeborg Ry and Royal Golf Dar Es Salam. At the latter venue he has twice gone close to the victory and that Moroccan course is one winners at Olgiata have enjoyed playing. In fact, both Poulter and Molinari won there. Van Rooyen might also feel the tournament owes him. Last year he was bang in contention until a Saturday 74 and although he missed the cut last time out in the Dunhill Links he closed with a 64.
The 23-year-old is sitting ninth in the Race to Dubai, which makes him and Van Rooyen the top two South Africans, suggesting there is a subtle changing of the guard taking place in that golfing hotbed and there’s no doubt Bezuidenhout has a touch of class. Time will tell if he has other skills required to progress to elite level, but, as with the first two selections, this is another golfer who has no fear of tree-lined fairways.
This season he’s collected ninth at Karen, 14th at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam and third in Eichenried before making his breakthrough in the Andalucia Masters hosted by Valderrama, a week when he grabbed a four-shot halfway lead and extended his advantage by a shot with each round that followed. At the end of last month he was mightily impressive when playing all 72 holes of the BMW PGA Championship inside the top five before finishing third. Ranked 95th in the world, he’ll be well aware that events such as this offer him a golden chance to break the world’s top 50 and with it open up massive opportunities in 2020. It’s possible that he’ll not be a 50/1 shot in fields like this come next year.