CONTENTS

Justin Harding

MASTERS STROKE

Justin Harding enjoyed a euphoric surge from outside the top 350 in the Official World Golf Ranking in April 2018 to an Augusta National debut 12 months later – breaking his duck on the European Tour in sensational style.

The South African won twice on his native Sunshine Tour in May 2018 before two more victories followed on the Asian Tour in July. He rolled that momentum into 2019 and a final round 66 at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters saw him emerge from a crowded leaderboard with a two-shot win ahead of nine players.

That victory lifted him into the top-50 in the world and he was rewarded with a maiden trip down Magnolia Lane where he shot rounds of 69-69-70-72 for a share of 12th place and an invitation back to the 2020 Masters, set to be held in November later this year. We caught up with Harding as he looks to build on an impressive year.

You enjoyed a remarkable year in 2018 and carried it into 2019 with victory in Qatar and then T12 at The Masters – what do you put this form down to and how were you able to sustain it for so long?
JH: It was just a case of having the consistency and confidence – and it seemed like they fuelled each other. I wish I could bottle it up because I’d like to do it more often!

What was it like playing The Masters and securing your place for 2020? How did you manage Augusta so well and how do you think it will play differently in November?
JH: I had a brilliant experience, which was obviously helped by a decent finish and playing well from Thursday through to Sunday. I also handled my emotions well all week. I found good speed control on the greens early on in the week and just rolled with it. Statistically, I had an unbelievable week on the greens. I’d watched The Masters a few times on TV and I’d played the golf course in my mind a number of times – you know where to hit it, it was just a matter of handling my nerves and executing the golf shots.

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How important was your win in Qatar and how did that victory change things for you in terms of confidence?
JH: It was hugely satisfying for me and it was vindication for a long stretch of seriously good form. Golf is purely momentum-based. If you take enough confidence into each round then you’re bound to play well, you just pretty much need to get out of your own way.

The Betfred British Masters kicks off the UK Swing for the European Tour again after lockdown but how have you been able to stay on top of your game – and will you be playing the full UK swing?
JH: I guess I’d have to wait and see what my game is like once I’m back in competition again. But I know I’ll have to put the work in. Right now it’s a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle together on the course. And – yes – I do plan on playing the full swing of all six events.

How are you able to adapt your game to cope with the different courses and weather conditions from the challenging winds at The Open to the treacherous greens at Augusta?
JH: I think growing up near the coast on the outskirts of Cape Town helped me with my ball flight control early on in my career – and it does help being a good putter because that gives me the confidence to roll it well on most surfaces.

How has COVID-19 affected your schedule and, more importantly, what has the time away from the course enabled you to do, where previously you wouldn’t have had the time?
JH: Well, it gave me an excuse to buy myself a Peloton bike, so I’ve been pushing myself to stay fit whilst offsetting that a little bit by playing my fair share of FIFA gaming.

Apart from playing, what has been the one thing you have missed during lockdown?
JH: Travelling. That’s the best thing about being a touring professional – flying to all the different corners of the world.

Will you be focusing on qualifying for the DP World Tour Championship in December and how important is the tournament along with the Middle East Swing events to your scheduling?
JH: Absolutely. The event and its sponsors are huge for the growth of the game and the Tour. Without sponsors like DP World, the Tour and players could not survive.

Many professionals have bought lavish things for themselves after winning or following a strong season. Did you treat yourself to anything exotic last year?
JH: Yes, I treated myself to a Rolex Daytona.

Who would make up your dream South African fourball?
JH: I’d chose to have a little betterball game around Leopard Creek with Oliver Bekker, George Coetzee and Branden Grace.

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Who is the greatest South African golfer and why?
JH: For me, it’s Ernie Els. He was World No.1 for a short period before Tiger Woods really rose to prominence and he won so many titles all over the world – and there were a lot of titles that he didn’t win because of Tiger!