Defending champion Garcia returns to happy hunting ground

Nicole Garcia

Defending champion Nicole Garcia is looking forward to the relaxed atmosphere of playing in the Pro-am format at the Sunshine Ladies Tour Dimension Data Ladies Challenge at George Golf Club starting on Friday.

“I love the Pro-am format of this tournament,” said Garcia. “It makes the whole event feel a little bit more relaxed. I’ve played well in this tournament a few years in a row, and obviously I won last year, so I’m taking a lot of positives into this year’s event.”

The field will be chasing R600 000 in total prize-money for the three-day event, with R500 000 up for grabs in the main tournament and a R100 000 purse for the Pro-am.
“When you’re playing with the amateurs it almost lightens the mood a little bit,” said Garica.

“You also can’t take yourself too seriously because you still have to make it fun for the amateurs. That actually helps me quite a lot. Having that little bit of extra money for the Pro-am format, it’s also great. It also helps them enjoy it more if they can help you earn a bit of extra cash. It’s the highest money event after the Investec South African Women’s Open on our schedule, so I hope it keeps going.”

The Dimension Data Challenge featured on the Sunshine Ladies Tour schedule since the circuit launched in 2014 and it has produced top champions, including 12-time winner Lee-Anne Pace.

Garcia will have her work cut-out for her with past champion and good friend Stacy Bregman in the field.

In-form Bregman, who won in 2015, could pose a huge threat, having backed up a fifth Sunshine Ladies Tour victory in the Canon Ladies Tshwane Open at the start of the season with a joint runner-up finish in the Joburg Ladies Open and fourth in Cape Town Ladies Open last week.

“I’m just going to try play it hole by hole,” said Ebotse golfer.

“I’ll keep my game plan the same. I’m just going to try and enjoy myself. George is my favourite course in the country, if not the world. But there are a lot of strong players in the field this year, so I’m not going to expect too much. I’ll be happy for whoever wins.”

The desire to win for Garcia is especially strong in 2018. Her season last year was derailed in a freak injury right after the Women’s British Open in August that could have ended her professional golf career.

“I slammed my finger in a car door, and when I pulled it out I pulled the finger off,” Garcia explained. ”I mean, I pulled the bone and everything off. I was out for what was supposed to be 10 weeks, but I ended up playing after six weeks. I had to play with a protective finger sock on, but it wasn’t too bad.

“It looks semi-normal now. The surgeon I had was incredible. If I didn’t tell you that I pulled my finger off, you wouldn’t be able to tell. I don’t have any pain and it doesn’t affect my play. The very first event I played after my injury I came top-10.

“Unfortunately, being out for a few weeks meant that I missed out on qualifying school for America and some crucial Ladies European Tour (LET) events. I suppose everything happens for a reason. I did end up keeping my LET card, but I finished 63rd on the order of merit, which means I am not automatically exempt for all events.

Garcia had a top 10 in the season-opener at Pretoria Country Club and finished third at Royal Cape Golf Club, but the 27-year-old finds herself well down in 17th position on the Investec Property Fund Order of Merit after missing the Joburg Ladies Open.

She opted to fly to Australia when she was offered a position in the Oates Vic Open, but missed the cut by one. So it is with renewed conviction that she returns to the scene of her three shot wire-to-wire triumph in 2017.

“I’m feeling pretty confident,” Garcia said. “It was unfortunate that I missed the second Sunshine Tour event, but it couldn’t be helped. I’m feeling good for this week. If I do well, I’ll climb up the order of merit. I’m working hard with my coach Grant Veenstra. We had a practice round yesterday and both courses are looking good.”

Garcia said she and LET travel partner Bregman have a bet going that will hopefully see both ending the season on the Sunshine Ladies Tour with victories to their names.

“My goal for the Sunshine Ladies Tour is to finish in the top-10 on the order of merit. I would like to win at least one or two events. I can’t predict if I will actually do that, but I would really love to.”

“Stacy and I made a bet that we’ll go to Mauritius of we both win this season. She’s already won, so it’s my turn now. If I get to win more than one it will be a bonus. The girls at the top are really strong so you have to play really good golf to win these events.”

A strong performance at the Dimension Data Challenge could setup the top five on the order of merit with two more events before the season-ending Investec South African Women’s Open in March. It would take a brave soul to bet against Garcia being near the top of the pile as she once again stakes a claim for a place among the marquee players in South African golf.

Written by and released by Lali Stander on behalf of the Sunshine Ladies Tour and WPGA.

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