Joburg Open defending champion Haydn Porteous had a lot on his mind on Tuesday.
Not only is the rain bucketing down at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club with more forecast, there’s the swing changes he’s trying to bed down.
Porteous claimed a thrilling two-stroke victory in last year’s Joburg Open during a stirring fortnight for South African golf which suggested there was going to be a lot more European Tour success on the way.
But Brandon Stone’s next best finish after winning the SA Open was a tie for second at the Shenzhen International as he ended 50th on the Race to Dubai; Porteous had just three more top-10s as he finished 85th, and Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Zander Lombard, the runners-up to Stone and Porteous, failed to build on that momentum.
It was left to the old firm of Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen to claim the only other South African victories last year.
Porteous at least has a reason for his struggles.
He’s remodelled his swing, which has led to up-and-down performances, and he accepts that there are going to be more off-days until the new swing has settled in properly.
“I think the reason all of us play golf is to get better and golfers will never ever stop looking for something more. I have always said that I’ll never regret trying to be a better golfer,” said Porteous.
“I think sometimes, you can make a bad decision about your swing, and swing thoughts, but that’s maybe not the problem. You’ve just got to learn from these mistakes and use them to become more professional in the way that you do things. And, over time, you start to make better decisions.
“It’s been a tough time with the swing changes I’ve been working on. I got a little bit too into the game and maybe a little bit too technical with the golf swing. Then I lost a bit of confidence on unfamiliar grasses and different golf courses and in different conditions.
“It was eye-opening and I knew that last year was going to be a difficult learning experience just to see what it was like to play in Europe. This year, I know what I’ll need to do, and hopefully I can build confidence.”
One wonders why a 22-year-old would want to change his swing so soon after his breakthrough win and while embarking on a tough new venture overseas.
But Porteous said the search for consistency was one of the main reasons.
“There was a part of me that didn’t believe I was consistent enough to play on the world stage. I would like to consistently be going 10 to 15-under every week. I know it sounds like a lot, but if I can get my stroke average to around 70 or 69, that’s a really good season on the European Tour.
“But I just didn’t think my swing was consistent enough for me to continuously churn out those kinds of scores. One day it would be 67 and the next day I’d battle to a 73. I just didn’t enjoy playing that sort of golf,” he said.
One man with possibly even more on his mind on Tuesday afternoon was tournament director David Williams, who is hoping for a day of less rain just to ensure the co-sanctioned event isn’t disrupted.
“It’s fortunate we don’t have a Wednesday start because there’s more rain due on Tuesday evening, but the heavy stuff should stop around 7am on Wednesday. We’ve had more than 80mm over the last 15 hours, so even 10-15mm could be a problem if it comes on top of 150mm.
“But the course drains reasonably well and all we need is a decent lull, one day of not much rain, which will allow a lot of water to disperse and the groundstaff can then start work on the bunkers,” said Williams.
A soft course will obviously make the greens extremely receptive and the tournament record of 27-under-par set by Richard Sterne in 2013 could be under threat.
Amongst the big names of the golfing world who will be in Linksfield this week are Darren Clarke, the Ryder Cup captain and winner of the 2011 Open Championship, current SA Open champion Graeme Storm, alongside former winners Stone and James Kingston, Sweden’s Niclas Fasth, the winner of six European Tour titles, and the in-form Jordan Smith.