By Quintin van Jaarsveld
South Coast twins Nicola Eaton-Gutzeit and Melissa Eaton are brimming with belief and determined to make an impact in front of their home crowd in the star-studded Cell C South African Women’s Open, which tees off at San Lameer Country Club on Thursday.
The sisters spoke to eHowz!t in a video interview (above) about their respective careers and how they’ve led them to this week’s much-anticipated 72-hole international showpiece.
The dynamic duo have been the local favourites at the Cell C South African Women’s Open since the South Coast acquired the hosting rights of the country’s oldest women’s professional tournament in 2012.
Selborne Park Golf Club, in 2012, and Southbroom Golf Club last year, were stellar hosts of the prestigious tournament, however, the bar has been raised in no uncertain terms this year, with an increased international field – from 108 to 126 of the world’s premier women’s players – and a total purse of R4.5-million (€320 000), an increase of almost half a million rand.
The 2014 tournament has garnered more mainstream media attention than the two previous editions, with the South Coast twins also enjoying their fair share of the spotlight as they will appear on Morning Live and offer a daily Tip of the Day on Espresso this week, while live coverage as well as highlights of the tournament will be broadcast on SuperSport.
Nicola lauded the tournament organisers and hopes the added exposure boosts the profile of women’s golf in South Africa.
“I firmly believe the growth of the tournament is due to the fact that the WPGA [Women’s Professional Golf Association] and [tournament spokesperson] Lesley Copeland and the World Sports Promotions team have worked tirelessly to gain support and attention for the event. They have without a doubt done a miraculous job over the past three years to get things to where they are now,” she told eHowz!t.
“For so long, women’s golf has gone unnoticed and now it’s starting to pick up momentum and get its fair share of coverage. It’s so important to develop the game for women as it’s a very popular game worldwide and we should have a much better ladies circuit, very much relative to what the men have in the Sunshine Tour.”
Nicola: ‘It definitely helps your decision-making when you know a course’
The Cell C South African Women’s Open is not only a rare opportunity for Port Shepstone Country Club resident professional Nicola to compete at the highest level, it’s also a chance to take on the world’s best on home soil.
“I’m extremely excited to play at home. It’s fun to have home crowds and support and it’s nice to play a course I know,” she told eHowz!t.
She admits to having a “healthy” degree of nerves days removed from tee-off but insists there’s no added pressure to being a local favourite.
“I think it’s more of a fact that we want to make everyone proud. It’s great having the support and it means that we must believe in ourselves even more and just play our games to the best of our abilities.
“There are some nerves, but it feels good. I believe that nerves are not necessarily a bad thing.”
Nicola said local knowledge of the conditions and the course will be a welcome advantage over the likes of defending champion Marianne Skarpnord from Norway, English professional and 23-time Ladies European Tour (LET) winner Trish Johnson, American Cheyenne Woods – the niece of Tiger Woods – and South African superstar Lee-Anne Pace, but said it would count for nothing if she’s not at the top of her game during the four-day tournament.
“Melissa and I have being able to play the course a lot, which has allowed us to get to know it, get comfortable with what clubs to hit as well as the different wind directions and how it changes the course.
“But I think no matter what, even if you know a course well there is always a challenge on the day, be it the weather, your own game or your mentality.
“It’s never easy; you still have to put it all together on the day, but it definitely helps your decision-making when you know a course.”
Touching on the challenges of the picturesque San Lameer course, she said, “It’s not a course you hit driver off every tee, it’s a course where you have to hit your targets, so I think it evens out the playing field a bit as it suits most people – long or short hitters. It’s a good challenge in accuracy.”
Both Nicola and Melissa proved their aptitude during last year’s rain-hit tournament when they placed joint 16th, and Nicola hopes to produce a similarly impressive showing.
“You always want to play to the best of your ability, but I’d be happy if I manage to be in the final group with Melissa on Sunday.”
Melissa: ‘I believe in fairytale endings and I hope to produce something special this week’
After plying her trade in Louisiana over the past few years, experienced LET and Symetra Tour campaigner Melissa opted to return to her hometown in early July, a decision that had both pros and cons with regard to her Cell C South African Women’s Open preparation.
“I needed the time to get fully settled and to establish myself back here full-time, so it’s been great to not feel rushed or pressured to get in practice rounds prior to the SA Open like previous years,” she told eHowz!t.
“Nicola and I have been very fortunate in that we’ve been able to play and practice at San Lameer as much as we’ve liked thanks to the amazing staff at San Lameer – we’re very grateful for that.
“I’m also very excited to compete as I haven’t played a tournament since June, so I’m fresh and ready to play.”
The 2013 Florida’s Natural Charity Classic winner said the fact that she’ll be playing her first major tournament since returning from the States on South Coast soil makes the tournament that much more special.
“It’s an absolute blessing and opportunity for me because I feel so comfortable with it being here, and I have so much support behind me.”
Playing on a course that suits her inventive style, Melissa is confident she’ll hit the ground running come Thursday.
“I’m a very creative golfer and like to hit shots. I hit my best shots when I’m required to hit a specific shot and at San Lameer, every shot requires much imagination, especially with the wind. The course is a great challenge for any player on any given day, no matter what.
“It’s hard to be strongly opinionated on my performance coming into this event given that my last competitive event was a few months ago, so that should lower my expectations.
“Having said that, I feel as though I’m right where I left off. I’m satisfied with every aspect of my game and well prepared. That’s all I can hope for going into an event, and the rest, well, we shall see.”
With a solid Cell C South African Women’s Open record, which includes carding a tournament low 68 to take a share of ninth place in 2012, Melissa believes she can make a run at the title.
“I love this event and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it’s right here on our home turf.
“My main goal this year, on this course, is to be exceptionally mentally tough – to trust myself more than I ever have and to be as patient as I’ve ever been around a golf course.
“I believe in fairytale endings and I hope to produce something special this week.”
The Cell C South African Women’s Open is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Ladies Tour (in partnership with the WPGA of South Africa) and the LET, and will be contested from Thursday to Sunday.