The eight-time European Tour winner Branden Grace, 30, returns this year to defend his title during the Nedbank Golf Challenge in the resort of Sun City, 125 miles north of Johannesburg . He talked about winning at home, hunting in the bush and how golf is now more of a job than before. The following conversation has been edited and compressed.
You defend the Nedbank title this year. Are you going to the tournament differently?
I am excited. This year will be a big tournament with a few big names, like Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy, who will give the tournament a big boost. I have previously been successful in defending a title and I am looking forward to doing it again. I won the Qatar Masters in 2015 and 2016. It is useful to know what a tournament is defending and how to tackle that extra pressure. That helps you to enter a relaxed feeling with a little more. Normally you feel a bit more pressure the week before. As a defender that week is busier, which is sometimes fun because you have much more to do than during a normal week. You are really busy.
There are many, media obligations and visits and the like. That takes your thoughts off the wave part of it. It is a positive at the end of the week. You can easily get stuck and stay in the room and only think about golf, golf and golf. But when you really have to do some things and functions to attend, time goes by. Then it's nice to be on the golf course on time when it's ready.
Is it a relief to defend a title and get that monkey from your back?
Absolutely. It is very important to have a variety of golf courses where you have played well and where you would like to return. Sometimes you get that one surprising victory where the job might not suit you, but your game in that week is so good that you won it. Qatar was one of those places. It is one of those places that I really love to play and visit. The wind blows a little. It really plays in the style of golf that I play. The Nedbank challenge at Sun City is comparable.
What is your most memorable tournament disorder?
That is a difficult question. Different tournaments stand out for different reasons, good and bad. I would say that winning a victory in America during the PGA Tour was one, just to get one over the line. Growing up was the PGA Tour to play on and where you wanted to be. You play week after week with the best players in the world. You win there, then you are pretty good at golf. For me that was a big step in my career. My best major was also pretty big. Even if you have not won yet, you still have a challenge for you on Sunday and maybe your first big win. For me that was the American Open in Chambers Bay in 2015. I played very well, but Jordan Spieth won. And although I did not win, I knew I had what it took to win a major.
The winning of the Nedbank last year was another. South African fans came all the way behind me. It was 10 years ago that a South African golfer had won and nobody had come close. When I won, I relive those moments of looking at Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman who won the tournament. So, if you get the chance to do that, it's pretty special. Just walk on the 18th hole along the tribune and you hear the applause as I did last year, was one of those moments that you never forget in your life.
The former pro Gary Player organizes the event. Did he give you instructions for on or next to the golf course?
I know Gary pretty well. We spent a lot of time together. If you spend a lot of time with Gary, you see the way he does things. You realize that he treats people in the right way, as he treats other players, sponsors and guests. You realize that this is what it is all about. The way he does it is the way it should be done. I just see him doing things and learning from example.
Is there a trick to play the Sun City course at Nedbank?
I love the affectionate grass. It is the grass where we grew up. Many golfers from Europe or America have problems with it and are not very enthusiastic about it. They find it a little tricky and sticky and fat sometimes. Growing up for us, we had to get used to it. Also there in Sun City, with so high in height and heat, the ball goes forever. You can hit a 7-iron 200 meter without even thinking about it. Some boys do not even play with a driver. You have to be accurate and keep it on the short and aggressive things if you should leave the job.
You are a hunter. Does that help you in any way as a golfer?
I am a good photo, but I am not a great photo. I mainly hunt for kudu, impala and springbok. I do not hunt for biggames – that's a completely different level. It is more of a family business. We step into the bush and we laugh. As a South African, we do not waste anything. Whatever we shoot, we store and eat the meat or use it for jerky. Where we hunt is so big, and sometimes it is a day before you see something. There is a lot of patience involved. However, it is a very different kind of experience. I feel more comfortable making a shot than shooting something. But if you are in the bush when it is quiet, you can sit there and look at the place and really enjoy it. It is something completely different from what we do as golfers. We do this thing again and again. It is an interruption of that.
We are at the business end of the European Tour. What do you have to do for a strong finish?
It has been a difficult year for me, with the birth of my son and an injury. The middle part of the year was not that busy. This is now the time of the year in which I really have to push and finish, to earn points on the world rankings and maybe win one or two events. It is nice to come home and play. If you are away all year, it becomes difficult and lonely. And you also feel that you have a better chance. I have to pump and finish myself.
You have been working on this for a number of years. Are you surprised about the game?
I think it looks more like a job than when I started. In the beginning it was all fun. You play and play golf and go home. It was fun to do. Things have really changed over the years from being more relaxed and enjoyable to more about business. Now, play on the PGA Tour or European Tour, you just have to do a little extra to stay outside and stay outside and give yourself a chance to win. The boys are getting younger and better. I am only 30, but now I feel like one of the old boys. You have to step up a bit to give yourself a chance.