A recharged Hennie Otto is primed to launch his bid for a second South African Open title when the world’s second oldest Open Championship tees off at Glendower Golf Club on Thursday. The three-time European Tour winner, who claimed an emotional victory at Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate in 2011, came agonisingly close to double success in 2013. Flawless and four under through the turn, Otto took the outright lead when he reeled in three birdies on the trot from the 12th.
However, his challenge went up in smoke after a bogey at the par-five 15th and double bogey at the par-four 16th. He closed with back-to-back pars to tie for second with countryman, Jbe’ Kruger, while Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen leapfrogged the South African pair with a bogey-free five-under-par 67 for a two-stroke victory on 19-under-par 269. Following surgery to his foot after the Alfred Dunhill championship, Otto was forced to take a proper break.
Rested and ready to do battle, Otto is relishing his return to the Ekurhuleni Aerotropolis. “I would love to win a second SA Open title at Glendower. I have so many great memories and it always feels like I’m coming home when I tee up at Glendower. It is right around the corner from where I lived and I grew up playing a lot of my golf there. The course suits me and I love the risk and reward style of the layout,” said the 38-year-old from his farm near Elements Private Golf Reserve in Limpopo. Otto spent most of the 2014 season campaigning in Europe and his form just before the festive break certainly suggests that he has the game to make amends.
Otto has been struggling for nearly three years to find a useful swing following back surgery and, although he collected a second Italian Open title. Fed-up with going it alone, the Anahita golfer engaged the services of renowned coach Jamie Gough just before the final four events in Race to Dubai. The pair achieved immediate results when Otto notched a top 20 finish in the Turkish Airlines Open and a tie for 21st at the DP World Tour Championship.
He finished the season ranked 46th, returned home and immediately dominated at the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open. He led or shared the lead through the first three rounds, but the pesky swing opened the door to his pursuers and he was bested by Jaco Ahlers in a three-way play-off at Royal Cape. Two weeks later, a weary Otto mixed rounds of 74 and 75 with a superb 67 and a final round 68 to tie for 22nd at the season-ending Alfred Dunhill Championship.
“I definitely wasn’t at my best after 15 weeks on the road. I kept fighting but I was weary. Then, on the way back from the Dunhill, we stopped off at the farm. I stepped into a thorn from a Camel Thorn Tree and I had to have it surgically removed. It forced me to take a real break over Christmas until the stitches came out and it was the best thing for me, because I really shut down and spent time with the family,” he said. Otto played three rounds at Fancourt to get the rust off after the stiches came out and another three rounds at Elements last week. “I feel really good about my swing and my game is in good nick. I’m eager to get going again,” Otto said.
Otto will line up in the illustrious company of eight past champions, including Madsen, Ernie Els, Wayne Westner, James Kingston, Richard Sterne, Sweden’s Matthias Gronberg, Trevor Dodds from Namibia and 57-year-old Charlie Bolling from the United States, who won at Royal Cape in 1983. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Charlie Bolling, but still, it’s great that so many past champions are coming out to support the SA Open. It’s our country’s flagship event and we all need to support it to help sustain the championship,” he said. Otto welcomed the inclusion of fellow Ekurhuleni native Els, who won the championship in 1992, 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2010.
“Ernie’s a five-time winner and a four-time Major winner. Any time he plays, his presence in the field definitely adds to the prestige of the championship, so we are all excited to have him back,” said Otto. The 104th South African Open Championship tees off from 8 – 11 January at Glendower Golf Club.
Photo: 2011 SA Open champion, Hennie Otto
Photo credit: Luke Walker