Quintin van Jaarsveld
A fresh approach will make local favourite Melissa Eaton one to watch when the South African Women’s Open tees off at San Lameer Country Club on Thursday.
The Port Shepstone player will this year be the sole South Coast representative in the Sunshine Ladies Tour showcase, with twin sister Nicola Gutzeit enjoying time with her newborn boy and Port Shepstone Country Club amateur Lizzie Currie also unavailable.
Now residing in Johannesburg, Eaton is relishing being back in her home town and says the national championship holds special meaning to her.
“I’m very excited to be playing in the event being that I’m a local and I know the course well. It’s a special time for me because I have my family here and don’t get to spend time with them often, so I really treasure this week,” she told eHowzit.
“I’m excited to play in front of the home crowd – that type of vibe is awesome. Winning the competition in front of my family would be the ultimate experience.”
The 32-year-old says she’s never been more relaxed heading into the 54-hole tournament, which is sanctioned by the WPGA of South Africa, supported by Ray Nkonyeni Municipality and carries a purse of R250,000.
Joining Parkview Golf Club as assistant golf director late last year has changed her outlook on golf, the experienced Ladies European Tour campaigner says. She feels the pros of her new position far outweigh the cons.
“Parkview’s been so supportive and encouraging of me and have made me see what a real club does when it comes together. They want me to play these Sunshine Ladies Tour events, so I’ll be playing the whole season and I’m so grateful for their support.
“I don’t get to play as much golf as I used to having a full-time job, but I still play once a week. My practice time has been cut down drastically – I used to practice a lot – so that’s the big difference.”
According to Eaton, her mental shift has lifted a weight off her shoulders.
“I’m not placing a lot of pressure and expectations on myself. I had so much pressure last year trying to fund my year out of what I made in Sunshine Ladies Tour events in Europe and that was really difficult to do.
“I’m very grateful that I’m able to be out here this year without that pressure and that I can just go out and have fun. It’s a very different experience on the golf course for me.
“I can’t expect to go out there and play amazing golf. Obviously I know that I’m capable of that and I’d love to, but I’m here to enjoy it, represent my club and continue to help grow our tour here in South Africa.”
Her new attitude has served her well so far. She missed out on the title in the season-opening SuperSport Ladies Challenge by a solitary stroke to Kim Williams on six-under-par 210 at Huddle Park Golf Club, where she reminded everyone of her class.
“It was in a sense surprising as I cannot say I prepared and felt amazing going into the competition, but just the fact that I had no pressure on me showed me that I played well,” she said
“I just had fun and that’s a big part of golf – it’s so mental. It taught me a lot and made me realise that I need to keep this whole season light and fun and enjoyable.”
She couldn’t replicate that form in last weekend’s South African Women’s Masters at Rondebosch Golf Club, finishing joint 19th, but she’s confident she’ll bounce back on the familiar fairways of San Lameer.
“I couldn’t prepare for the SA Masters; I didn’t feel comfortable and felt tired, and it showed, but this week will be different. I’m with my family, I have time to rest and prepare and I’ll be ready when Thursday rolls around.”
So, what’s her goal for the South African Women’s Open? “I would love a top three finish. I’ve always wanted to have a good result at the Open and haven’t quite been able to put things together because I think I put too much pressure on myself.
“Ultimately, if I can be in contention and learn and grow as a player I’d be really happy with that.”
South African superstar Lee-Anne Pace is the two-time defending champion and will be chasing history as she hopes to become the first player to win the national championship for a third time.
She’ll face stiff competition in the likes of SuperSport Ladies Challenge winner Williams, South Korean sensation Carrie Park – fresh off her impressive South African Women’s Masters triumph – and England’s Rebecca Hudson, who has four Ladies European Tour titles to her name.
Entrance to the tournament is free and highlights packages covering all three days will be flighted on SuperSport and SABC 3.
Photo by Carl Fourie/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images