By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Port Shepstone pro Nicola Eaton-Gutzeit was left to do some introspection following a disappointing display in the Cell C South African Women’s Open, which concluded at San Lameer Country Club on Sunday.
It was not the performance Eaton-Gutzeit had envisioned in front of her home crowd.
After television appearances on Morning Live and Espresso with twin sister and fellow competitor Melissa Eaton in the days leading up to the tournament, Thursday’s opening round dawned under dark clouds and it was game on.
Sans her usual, reliable swing, she misfired on the pressure-cooker of a course and opened her account with a 16 over 88. A one-stroke improvement in Round Two was of little consolation for Eaton-Gutzeit, who harboured hopes of playing in Sunday’s final round.
It was an uncharacteristic performance, one that belied her true talent. Her joint 16th finish in last year’s South African Women’s Open, which was played at Southbroom Golf Club and reduced to one round due to torrential rain, was a more accurate barometer of her aptitude to play at the highest level.
She admits her performance and subsequent early exit was a bitter pill to swallow but insists there are positives to take from the tournament.
“It’s amazing playing at home, although I’m still in shock at my performance and very disappointed,” Eaton-Gutzeit told eHowz!t.
“I enjoyed the experience though. It’s so nice to feel at home yet play in such a prestigious event.”
With coaching at her come club and Hillbillion driving range occupying most of her time, she went into the tournament undercooked, which she concedes not only affected her swing but also played on her mind.
Playing against the world’s elite in front of the SuperSport cameras didn’t help.
“To be honest, I was not hitting the ball well for the past month leading up to the SA Open. I have been trying to work through it but I was really struggling with my ball striking.
“I don’t get regular coaching anymore as I am too busy coaching others myself, so I was not able to really work through my own swing fixes.
“I stayed positive, though, and still felt I was ready to compete, but once I was in that intense tournament pressure everything amplified, especially because I was not playing week in and week out, so it was all kind of ‘new’ to me.
“My focus was blurred, my nerves on edge, the anxiety high, and for some silly reason I just had so many negative thoughts.
“Playing competitive golf is something you have to be doing continuously to be able to feel comfortable and confident under that pressure.
“My ball striking deteriorated and I had no confidence and San Lameer is a course you need to hit well and pretty straight.”
A few shaky shots during Thursday’s warm-up, she says, ate away at her confidence.
“I started my day hitting balls to warm up where I proceeded to hit numerous flat shots. I knew it was nerves but it got in my head.
“As any golfer knows, if you get this ‘thought’ in your head that you are hitting a certain shot then that’s the shot you hit. It killed me and I had no confidence.
“Going into the second round, I knew I was probably going to need a bit of a miracle to make the cut and I was still very positive and just wanted to try to focus on one shot at a time.
“Unfortunately, I tried too hard and was struggling mentally, so it was a tough day overall.”
The consummate professional, however, assures that she won’t dwell on the disappointment and believes the lessons she learned will benefit her game moving forward.
“I just have to keep my head up, keep working hard and keep believing in myself and my natural ability.”