HOYLAKE, England -- A birdie on the 18th hole to cap a three-under 69 in the most difficult wind conditions players have faced thus far at Royal Liverpool, left George Coetzee with the imaginary title “36-hole clubhouse” leader mid-way through Friday at the British Open. It’s a distinction, however, even the South African himself figures he’ll relinquish before day’s end.
“If the wind continues or even kicks up more, who knows,” said Coetzee, who sat at five-under 139 overall. “But there are a lot of players out there still.”
A stretch of three straight birdies on the back nine allowed Coetzee to briefly tie Rory McIlroy for the overall at six under. Upon noticing that fact when walking past the leader board on the 15th hole, he quickly proceeded to bogey the 16th and 17th holes.
The day wasn’t going to be a good one regardless of Coetzee’s score, as it is his 28th birthday. For company, he flew in his mother and girl friends and Thursday morning and said the group would celebrate in the evening. “Yeah, we’ll have a couple of Cokes,” he joked.
Should though he still be high on the leader board when he and his family drinking up, here are a few things other things you might want to know about him.
-- After four years the European Tour and 107 starts, Coetzee claimed his first win in February, winning the Joburg Open in his home country. The victory also was being used as a qualifier for the British Open, thus he secured his spot at Hoylake.
-- He started playing golf out of spite. His father had hoped he would become a tennis player, but a rebellious streak caused him to try golf. After winning the first event he ever entered, he was hooked.
-- Since first taking up the game as a 10-year-old, he has struggled to play well on links-style courses. Coetzee’s home in Pretoria is 4,600 feet above sea level and he grew up playing parkland courses. “Until the age of 16, I never broke 80 at the coast,” Coetzee said. “I couldn’t understand why the ball was going so short.” It wasn’t until he won a Sunshine Tour event in South Africa on a links course that he finally felt like he got a handle for the style of play needed to succeed on those courses.
-- This is actually not Coetzee’s lowest 36-hole score at the British Open. In 2011 at Royal St. George’s in his first major, he started 69-69 to sit in tied for seventh, two off the lead. A 72-74 weekend left him in 15th place at the end of the championship.
Photo: Getty Images