Golf

Olazabal praises South Africa golf

Jose Maria Olazabal
Jose Maria Olazabal laments the decline of golf in his native Spain.
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CENTURION, South Africa (AP)

Jose Maria Olazabal marvels at the state of South African golf, at the numerous hometown winners of the plentiful tournaments.

He wishes he could say the same about his homeland, Spain.

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These are hard times for Spain all around.

Olazabal, the two-time Masters winner back in South Africa for the second time this year for the inaugural Tshwane Open starting on Thursday, couldn't help but compare the prosperity of golf around him to the decline of big-time golf in the country which has produced Seve Ballesteros and himself.

This is the sixth and last South African tournament, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, on the European Tour's Race to Dubai.

Four of them have been won by locals: Charl Schwartzel (Alfred Dunhill Championship), Louis Oosthuizen (Volvo Champions), Richard Sterne (Joburg Open) and Darren Fichardt (Africa Open).

Two years ago, Spain had seven tournaments on the European Tour, but after being ravaged by the financial crisis, the country will host only one this year, the Spanish Open in April.

''The level of golf now in South Africa is way better than it is in Spain,'' Olazabal said. ''For a while, we had great players. But we are struggling to see the new generation coming up.

''In South Africa, there is the Schwartzels and Oosthuizens and a lot of other great players, and in a way I envy that, but in a right way.

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''For whatever reason, South Africa is able to produce great players like Ernie (Els), Retief (Goosen), and there is a lot young guys that are doing so well at the moment.

''Also, South Africa is doing well as a country but in Europe we are struggling, so it's nice to come to countries like this where the golf courses are so good. It's great to be able to play competitive golf under great conditions.''

Michael Campbell, the other major winner in the field, along with Darren Clarke, has also been impressed with South African golf.

''It must be something in the water, and it's incredible what they've done over the last few years with Charl, Louis, Sterne, Branden Grace and George Coetzee,'' Campbell said.

''It's a tribute to guys like Gary Player and then to Ernie and Goose, as they've paved the way for these young kids.

''If they see their national heroes winning majors around the world they think, `He's from our country, and if he can do it, I can do it,' so it's a real motivation for the locals to get out there and practice harder.

''And now you've got so many major winners and it's fantastic.''

Els designed the longest course in European Tour history — 7,791 yards — at the Copperleaf Golf and Country Estate, on land where his grandfather, Ernie Vermaak, grew up. But Els is skipping the tournament to play in the PGA Tour's Honda Classic.

Tagged: Jose Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Gary Player

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