SA primed for Africa Zone VI battle

National pride takes precedence this week as South Africa takes up its title defence in the 2014 Zone VI Golf Tournament at the Devonvale Golf and Wine Estate on Tuesday.

Over the next three days, and four rounds of intense competition, the national team will line up against 11 other African nations to chase down the country’s 19th victory since 1995 in Africa’s flagship team event.

There was a lot of cheerful banter and playful teasing between the teams on the weekend, but once the SA squad took to the Ken Alkin-designed layout for the official practice round on Monday morning, the players were all business.

SA number one Christiaan Bezuidenhout is optimistic about the team’s chances, but warned against complacency.

“We have a long and proud history in this tournament,” the 2013 South African Golf Association Player of the Year said. “The next three days will be intense, because we take the title defence very seriously.

“We are well prepared, but just because South Africa has dominated this tournament for many years, we can’t afford to let our guard down.

“The 2010 team were beaten by Kenya and that could happen to us. A good record is no guarantee.”

Last year, the victorious SA team lost just one point over two rounds of singles, a round of foursomes and a round of fourballs at Windhoek Country Club in Namibia.

Zimbabwe finished four points behind South Africa in second on 19 points and Namibia took third on 15 points and Bezuidenhout believes this year the result could be event tighter.

“Our coach, Llewellyn van Leeuwen, told us to shoot for a perfect score this year, and he wasn’t joking,” the 19-year-old Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation member said.

“In recent years, players from the neighbouring countries have started to attend academies in South Africa. We play against them regularly on the Open Amateur circuit and these players are as good and as competitive as we are.

“Each year, they come at us harder; the winning margin seems to get smaller. That is why we cannot afford complacency.”

Reigning Sanlam SA Amateur champion Thriston Lawrence, reigning SA Stroke Play champion Jason Smith, Zander Lombard, NJ Arnoldi, Gerlou Roux, Louis Taylor and Stefan Cronje complete the side.

“This is Zander’s third tour of duty for South Africa in this event, while Thriston, Gerlou and Louis return for a second successive year and Jason and Stefan are our new caps,” said Van Leeuwen.

“The team is well prepared and geared for action, but the weather could throw us a curve ball.”

After the Boland region enjoyed a glorious spell of warm and sunny weather, a brutal South-easterly greeted the 12 nations on Monday.

“The wind was blowing at 40 km per hour and the forecast calls for the blustery conditions to continue,” the national coach said.

“The course is in immaculate condition and the greens are running true and pretty fast. There are great scoring opportunities out there, but it was tough to get aggressive and go for the pins in the wind.

“If it continues to blow like this, it will certainly stir things up.”

The countries hoping to head off South Africa’s title defence include Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The Africa Zone VI Golf Tournament is sponsored by the Department of Sport and Recreation and the R&A.

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