Neil O’Briain / Image from Getty Images
Neil O’Briain is hoping to draw on some fond memories when he returns to the site of arguably his finest achievement in professional golf to date.
The Dubliner tees up for the start of the Dimension Data Pro-Am at Fancourt Golf Club tomorrow, where he bravely birdied the final hole last year to claim a third-place podium finish.
His 15-under par tournament total came after O’Briain had driven all of 1200km just to qualify for the event. He left that week with a €23,000 cheque in his back pocket and the result went a long way towards securing his Sunshine Tour Rookie of the Year title in 2018.
Having had much of his 2017 season scuppered by hip and rib injuries, it was a performance that revived a then stuttering career and with two tournaments under his belt in South Africa already this term, O’Briain is hoping the city of George can inspire a spark once more.
“It’s great to be back at Fancourt,” said O’Briain. “The golf course is class as always. The greens are a lot firmer than last year on the Montagu course but it’s in really great shape.
“The game is OK, I’m feeling alright – everything is just OK to be honest. It’s funny, it’s nearly there but I’m just waiting for a bit of a spark from somewhere.
“I finished off five-under for my last nine holes last week but just missed out on the cut so at least I still feel a little bit of momentum coming here after having a week where nothing really went for me at all.
“Keeping the driver ticking over nicely this week will be key. You can do well around here if you get the driver in play, obviously the putts have to drop too but it’s a proper test of golf because you don’t have to be too far off the other way for it to be extremely tough.
“But look, everything is pretty good so if sparks fly it should be a really good week. I’m looking forward to it so hopefully I’ll be able to pull on the great memories from last year and go from there.”
Meanwhile O’Briain has some compatriots in springbok country for company this week as Tramore’s Robin Dawson enters his first full season as a professional while Ardglass’ Cormac Sharvin takes his chance in the field too.
Both players missed out at Final Stage of European Tour Q-School in November and will once again be forced to enter the cauldron of Challenge Tour golf and beyond in order to pave their way to the big time this term.
With a generous prize pot of some €325,000 on offer this week, from 14-17 February, let’s hope they can start that journey well and take home a chunk of it.