sport

Olazabal impressed by South Africans

Jose Maria Olazabal admits he is envious of the production line of golfing talent coming out of South Africa.

The Spaniard, who so memorably captained Europe to Ryder Cup victory last year, is in South Africa this week to play in the European Tour's inaugural Tshwane Open in Centurion.

While Spain continue to search for players to build on the success of Seve Ballesteros and Olazabal himself, South African golfers have had no such problems following in the footsteps of Gary Player.

South Africans have won majors in each of the last three years, with Louis Oosthuizen winning the Open in 2010, Charl Schwartzel prevailing at the 2011 Masters and veteran Ernie Els pipping Adam Scott to win last year's Open.

Olazabal said on europeantour.com: "There are a lot of great players, no question. For whatever reason, this country is able to deliver great players.

"To be honest, the level here is much better than in Spain. It's true that for a while we had great players in Spain, but we are struggling to see a new generation coming through. But you have a lot of great players, major winners, in this country. In a way, I envy that."

The course at the Copperleaf Golf and Country Estate has been designed by Els, whose grandfather, Ernie Vermaak, used to live on the land.

Olazabal has been impressed by it but admits the distances required have left him a little concerned.

The 47-year-old said: "It's a great course but it's also very long, even though we're not off the back tees all the time. The front nine is particularly long.

"I'm struggling with my driving and, with the golf course being as long as it is, you need to drive it well. But hopefully I can find something over the next few days."

The Tshwane Open, which is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, is the sixth European Tour event in South Africa this season, and the home players in the field will be hoping to make it a fifth win.

Schwartzel took the honours at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, Oosthuizen won the Volvo Golf Champions, Richard Sterne triumphed at the Joburg Open and, most recently, the Africa Open was won by Darren Fichardt.

Fichardt is looking for back-to-back European Tour wins this week and will be especially at home as he grew up close by in Centurion.

The 37-year-old said: "It's great to have a European Tour event in my home town. There's been a really nice swing of tournaments in South Africa, so hopefully I can finish it off nicely.

"I'm sure all the guys are really going to enjoy playing at Copperleaf. It's designed by Ernie and is in very good condition, especially the greens, which are unbelievable.

"As it's quite an exposed course, there's normally a little bit of wind to keep you on your toes. It's definitely going to be hot and humid and with a pretty high chance of some thunderstorms, so there could be a few weather disruptions.

"But I'm sure it's going to be a great week and I'll have some friends and family coming along, so hopefully I can give them something to shout about."

Fichardt and Olazabal are in the same group tomorrow along with England's Simon Dyson and will tee off at 7.20am while former major winners Darren Clarke and Michael Campbell are also in the field.