Who are the men who carry SA’s hopes at the 148th Open Championship?

Rory McIlroy during Round 4 of the 2017 BMW SA Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club on January 15, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Rory McIlroy during Round 4 of the 2017 BMW SA Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club on January 15, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Luke Walker/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images

The 148th Open Championship boasts one of the strongest fields in golf for the tournament’s return to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years‚ including 11 South Africans.

Royal Portrush will host its second Open‚ and the first since 1951‚ where local hero Rory McIlroy attempts to become a popular winner at the season’s fourth and final major.

South Africa is well represented with Dylan Frittelli swelling the country’s participants by one after his brilliant maiden victory on the USA PGA Tour at the John Deere Classic last week.

The Joburger‚ who played college golf with Jordan Spieth in Texas‚ had to hastily change his plans after qualifying for the Open with that superb win.

Spieth is a three-time major winner‚ including the Open and already a former World No 1 at the age of 25. Frittelli is 29 and has just had his first massive breakthrough.

The South African is level-headed enough to know that he is not like Spieth and placing unfair demands on himself will be counter-productive‚ especially after breaking through in America.

“Obviously Jordan and I were at college together‚ and he's probably the antithesis of me in terms of mental‚ I don't know what you want to call it‚ but mental focus‚” Frittelli said.

“He has a burning desire to win everything.

“We used to play ping-pong in the locker room and I would beat him four games in a row and want to leave. He’d say‚ "no‚ you're not leaving‚ stay here.’

"Dude‚ I've got to go and practice now. Like I can't sit here for an hour.’

“He wouldn't let me leave until he beat me. He has had a burning desire. I don't really have that. I'm more methodical and I'm more thoughtful in what I do.

“There are different ways of doing it‚ and obviously it works out for him and I wish I had more of that burning desire‚ but I don't.

"So I'm going to take this win (at the John Deere) and use that to fuel my technique‚ fuel my analysis and keep it going in the future.”

Confidence born from winning is something that can’t be practiced though and that’s why Frittelli might be a dark horse.

Last year Francesco Molinari was second at the John Deere after a stellar month and ended up winning the Open.

Frittelli also has an early first round tee time‚ going out at 8:25am‚ which generally means he will miss the worst of the weather if the wind picks up later in the day.

Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen are in the field as well.

Both are former Open champions but Els is unlikely to challenge while Oosthuizen remains a consistent performer across the globe.

Els pulled out of the recent Scottish Open because of a painful back‚ but he believes he will be ready to compete at his favourite tournament for the 29th time.

“As everyone knows‚ links golf has been a long-time love affair for me‚ ever since my first appearance in the Open as an amateur exactly 30 years ago‚” Els said.

“It’s the purest‚ finest test there is and it’s a style of golf where I feel like I can catch some form and compete.

"That’s what drives me; that’s why we play this game.

“Royal Portrush is a golf course that I’m not familiar with. Obviously it has a wonderful reputation‚ though‚ so I’m looking forward to the challenge and to competing.”

Oosthuizen has had four top tens on the PGA Tour this season‚ but has battled to string four good rounds together.

If he gets that right this week‚ he is a dangerous contender in Open conditions.

Justin Harding‚ Erik van Rooyen‚ Branden Grace‚ Richard Sterne‚ Christiaan Bezhuidenhout‚ Zander Lombard‚ Shaun Norris and Brandon Stone complete the SA contingent at the Open.

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