Interview with George Coetzee, the European Tour's best putter

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The moment that changed George Coetzee’s life forever came when he was 13. “My mates and I used to play nine holes every day,” he recalls. “One day, my dad said, ‘This rubbish has got to stop. If you want to make it as a golfer you need to practise your putting while they play.’” Fast-forward 16 years and 29-year-old Coetzee is a three-time European Tour winner who sits in the top 20 of this year’s Race to Dubai, largely thanks to the fact he is in the top five in each of the three main putting statistics.

The South African takes just 28 putts per round, which, to give it perspective, gives him a two-shots-per-round advantage over Rory McIlroy. We caught up with him on a rare break from the practice putting green…

Were you always good on the greens, or did practice make perfect?

Without my dad’s advice, I would have been picking up trash or flipping burgers! I practised hard for a bunch of years and now I am a pretty good putter. 

If you could change one rule in golf, what would it be?

I would change anything that helps people with their putting. I would have banned the belly putter and anchoring putters a long time ago, and I would ban those thick grips as well. I think that golf should be played in the traditional, difficult way and people shouldn’t be able to adjust their clubs to make it easier.

If you were hosting a Major, which would it be and where would you host it?

The Open is my favourite Major and I’d hold it on the Old Course at St Andrews, because it is a special place and a really good, fun course. You need the bad weather, though. I’d stipulate that my Major was played in the wind rather than on a good day.

Were you inspired by fellow South Africans Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen’s performances this year? 

Definitely. I play money games with Branden, Louis and Charl Schwartzel on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the big events. We take each other’s cash on a day-to-day basis, so seeing them doing well makes me feel like I deserve to be amongst them. 

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You’re playing in big events in China, Turkey, Dubai and South Africa over the next couple of months. What are your best travel tips? 

Make sure you choose an airline that shows lots of movies. I’ll watch anything, even Beauty & The Beast. And make sure your iPad is full of TV programmes. My current favourites are River Monsters, Monster Fish and Fishing Australia, but I have just started to download a lot of surfing shows. Fishing and surfing are my two main hobbies. 

How is your surfing?

I have only been doing it for 10 months, but I love it and try to catch a few waves whenever I can. Adam Scott has given me a few spots to try out near San Diego, and every time I go to the States for an event I go a week early to get some surfing in. 

And what is your biggest ever catch?

I caught an 80kg tuna about two-and-a-half hours off of Cape Town this year. 

We couldn’t even lift that! Are you the strongest player on the European Tour?

I don’t think so. Martin Kaymer is a beast and so are Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Pablo Larrazabal. The three of them don’t mess about when they get into the gym.

How important is fitness in modern golf?

Nowadays you get left behind if you don’t train, so everybody does it. My diet is probably the worst part of my game, but I am pretty fit and strong for my stature. 

Coetzee spoke to TG at the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational charity event. See garyplayerinvitational.com/europe

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