Thriston Lawrence hopes childhood memories of watching his idols compete at the Alfred Dunhill Championship can spur him on as he looks to continue his fine form.
The home hope, who became the first player from his country to be crowned Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year after a breakthrough 2022 campaign, arrives at Leopard Creek after claiming his third DP World Tour title in 13 months at last week’s Investec South African Open.
Lawrence grew up close to this week’s host venue Leopard Creek in nearby Mbombela and has played in five previous editions of the eagerly-anticipated event, which is co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour and returns following a two-year absence.
“This is a very special place for me,” he said. “The Alfred Dunhill Championship was the first professional tournament I ever came to support.
“I remember seeing Ernie Els and all the others win here, and as a young amateur golfer standing next to the green asking for a ball. And to now be here myself is special.”
Lawrence is up to a career-high 64th in the Official World Golf Ranking – having been 555th prior to his debut win at the Joburg Open – and is the early pace setter in the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex.
He joins a strong South African presence in the field alongside former World Number One Els along with defending champion Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Ahead of competing in his final event of 2022 – which precedes next week’s year-ending AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open – the 26-year-old is eager to be in the mix once again as he targets his third DP World Tour title on home soil.
“It’s very exciting to be here. Everybody wants to get their hands on that leopard trophy,” said Lawrence.
The 26-year-old (Lawrence) held off the challenge of Frenchman Clément Sordet by one shot to add his home national Open to his victories at the Joburg Open and Omega European Masters last season.
Sordet is competing back on the DP World Tour after regaining his playing rights by finishing 13th on the 2022 Challenge Tour Road to Mallorca Rankings last season.
Despite narrowly missing out on his maiden DP World Tour title, the 30-year-old was focusing on the positives of an encouraging start to the new campaign.
“I would have signed up for second place at the start of the week, so I am really happy,” he said.
“Of course, I really wanted to get that win but I didn’t manage to get it done. It is still a second place and still good points on the Race to Dubai.”
“It is always nice to start with some good points at the beginning of the season.
“I know what I have to work on, and I am just going to enjoy this week, do the same thing with my caddie, focus on the process and hopefully have a good one.”
Sordet is making his third appearance at the Alfred Dunhill Championship this week – having made the cut on his previous two visits – and holds the challenge Leopard Creek presents in high regard.
“It is always nice to be back at Leopard Creek,” he said. “I have been here many times.
“I think it is one of the best courses we play during the year and all the wildlife around the course is pretty cool.”