The 2015 European Tour tees off on Thursday in South Africa. Must be time for a break, then?
For some in the Nedbank Challenge field at Sun City that is the case, such is the unwieldy nature of the golfing year and the demands placed on elite players.
US Open champion Martin Kaymer has not picked up a stick in the 10 days since the 2014 season finale in Dubai. After his work is done on Sunday, he has one more engagement before packing his bags for Germany, where he will spend Christmas with family and friends, including new girlfriend Kirsty Gallacher, presumably, without giving a second thought to his profession.
“It has been a long season, probably the longest I’ve ever played,” said Kaymer, who claimed his second major at Pinehurst No 2 in June. “After Dubai [DP World Tour Championship], I didn’t hit a golf ball until this morning when I warmed up for the pro-am.
“There won’t be much practice this week as it’s just about conserving energy. It’s an important tournament and it would be nice to make a strong start to the 2015 campaign, but it’s also the end of a long year and you want to enjoy it a little bit.
“I’ve got one more tournament after this and then I’ll be heading home to Germany for a good break,” he added. “It’s been years since I spent Christmas in Germany so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Nedbank is an elite, 30-man event featuring golfers from the five principal Tours. Five members of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team are in the field, including Lee Westwood, plus one of the vice-captains at Gleneagles, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Luke Donald.
It is the curtain-raiser to a European season that begins in the South African summer before migrating to the Middle East and beyond next month. Things do not start on the continent of Europe until May, a testament to the ingenuity of the tour executives at Wentworth and the commercial imperatives of the modern sporting world.
As well as the big set-piece tournaments, the South African swing and the eastern migration thereafter provide the Tour’s lesser lights with a platform to compete at a time of year when it is simply not possible in northern Europe.
The box-office boys like Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose et al pop up at the big ones of their choosing in Sun City, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar or Shanghai, leaving the field clear at more minor events for names to be made.
The Nedbank is thus both a beginning and an end. For Westwood and Donald it is an opportunity to sign off on a high after a frustrating year. Westwood has won once and did enough to earn a captain’s pick at the Ryder Cup. Donald has not tasted victory since 2013 and missed out.
Their form has had consequences, too, for their world rankings, with Donald slipping 20 places to 37 and Westwood 17 spots to 42, slides that both, as former world No 1s, are keen to arrest.
A couple of rounds in the sixties in Dubai at least gave Donald hope that a corner has been turned after reuniting with his old coach Pat Goss. “My game can’t be too far away. It’s nice to see some numbers in the sixties, it’s been a bit of a run for me shooting loads of seventies,” he said.
Westwood came good episodically but lacked the consistency associated with one of the finest ball strikers in the game. He is grouped with Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen in Thursday’s first round, Donald is last out, alongside Charl Schwartzel and Thomas Bjorn.Reuse content