FOR the casual follower of golf in South Africa the name JC Ritchie may not roll off the tongue as easy as, say, a Charl Schwartzel, a Branden Grace or a Louis Oosthuizen who will defend his title in the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg right here at Randpark next week.
But Ritchie, a talented and powerful golfer who plays out of the Els Club, Copperleaf, could well be a serious contender in the tournament, co-sanctioned with the European Tour and with its R17,5-million purse.
Ritchie, who turns 26 next month, was one of the first players to come out to the club for a practice round ahead of the SA Open and teed it up on Firethorn this week alongside fellow professional and close friend Jaco Prinsloo, also from the Els Club.
“I’ve always enjoyed Firethorn in the past and today I was reminded what a brilliant golf course it is,” said Ritchie after the round.
“Following all the rain we’ve had the rough wasn’t as thick and long as I would have expected. But I guess they’ll let it grow right up until the tournament starts. I think if the rough does grow some and they set the course up tough, it’s going to be a really searching test.”
Ritchie has already won three times in 2019, in the Limpopo Open, the Sunshine Tour’s inaugural Team Championship at Dainfern – with good buddy Prinsloo his partner – and the Zanaco Masters at Lusaka Golf Club. Two years ago in the SA Open at Glendower, JC finished third alone behind winner Chris Paisley from England and Branden Grace.
Ritchie played the best golf of his life with two superb 65s over the weekend and took home a cool R1,1-million. And in 2017 he won the Zimbabwe Open at Royal Harare in spite of making a quintuple-bogey nine at the very first hole! After that he blitzed the course.
So he’s tasted victory in both Zambia and Zimbabwe. So can he now move up a gear and win the South African Open? “I really feel I can,” added the big-hitting pro who is currently seventh in the 2019/2020 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, was ninth last year and a lofty third two years back.
Ritchie and Prinsloo, who has been inside the top 30 in the Order of Merit for two of the last three years, travel to tournaments together.
“And we have done for the last six or seven years,” says JC, “Jaco’s as close as a brother to me. Of course we also help each other out with our swings, so it’s a great arrangement.”
The pair come across as really friendly guys and with all their talent, spectators next week might well be doing themselves a favour by picking out the names JC Ritchie and Jaco Pinsloo from the drawsheet and going out to watch them tackle Firethorn and Bushwillow.
You might just see a bunch of birdies. You might even see a winner.
Written by Randpark member Grant Winter.