AS the countdown to the 2018 edition of the Zimbabwe Open begins, local golf enthusiasts should brace for a bigger and better event, with a stellar lineup made up of some of the leading players on the Sunshine Tour and beyond, expected to grace this year’s tournament to be played from April 19-22 at Royal Harare Golf Club.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The jewel in the crown of professional golf in the country, the Zimbabwe Open, which is being bankrolled by a number of local corporates, led by the major sponsors Old Mutual, is the richest professional golf event locally and one of the most prestigious tournaments on the Sunshine Tour schedule.
While the entries for this year’s edition are yet to the finalised, NewsDaySport has gathered that defending champion, JC Ritchie from South Africa will return to Harare bidding to become the first golfer since the legendary Nick Price to successfully defend the Zimbabwe Open title.
Ritchie won last year’s title after seeing off his more seasoned compatriot Trevor Fisher Jnr on the second playoff hole for his maiden Sunshine Tour win.
A win at this year’s event would see Ritchie emulating World Golf Hall of Famer Price, who remains the only player to have won two successive Zimbabwe Open titles – a feat he achieved in 1998.
The 25-year-old golfer, who plays out of the Pretoria-based Els Club Copperleaf, has been enjoying a superb season, headlined by his third place finish at the BMW SA Open for his maiden top-five finish in a European Tour co-sanctioned event.
Zimbabwe Open tournament director, Michael Mahachi said they were anticipating another quality field for this year’s tournament.
“I can confirm that the defending champion JC Ritchie will be part of the field for the Zimbabwe Open while some of the other top names, who have confirmed their participation include Trevor Fisher Jnr, Hennie Otto, Keith Horne, Oliver Bekker, Dimension Data champion, Jaco Ahlers and two-time Zimbabwe Open winner, Jbé Kruger,” he said.
“The Sunshine Tour and the players regard the Zimbabwe Open as one of their best events on the tour and this makes us very proud to continue working hard to preserve this event,” Mahachi said.
The quartet of Ritchie, Fisher Jnr, Bekker and Ahlers all finished inside the top four on the leaderboard after last year’s tournament, which was eventually won by the former.
For Bekker, the third place finish during the Zimbabwe Open last year was the start of a memorable season in which he won three times on the Sunshine Tour during the 2017-18 season.
Last month Bekker took home five awards, including the prestigious commissioner’s award at the Sunshine Tour’s end of season awards ceremony on Sunday.
A strong field of 156 players, including 33 Zimbabweans will feature in the R1,8 million Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned tournament, which runs until Sunday at the 116-year-old golf club.
South African golfers have dominated the Zimbabwe Open since its return to the Sunshine Tour schedule in 2010 after a seven year hiatus, maintaining a perfect record.
Kimberly-born Kruger won the Zimbabwe Open twice in 2010 and in 2014, while Theunis Spangenberg, Chris Swanepoel and Jake Roos won in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Mutare-born, Dean Burmester, who competes under the South African flag, won the 2015 edition of the tournament, before Lyle Rowe and Ritchie won the 2016 and last year’s editions of the tournament respectively.
The last local to win the Zimbabwe Open was Mark McNulty back in 2000.