pic: Chris Wood / Africa Open (Getty Images)
Having barely digested the Christmas turkey, the Tour is back up and running this week with the Africa Open. The workshop won’t be back out again until March (first events are a touch too far), so we’re working with the players and their agents by phone and email - meeting up when we can.
With all the attention on Luke Donald at the end of 2011, it’s easy to forget what’s happening at the other end of the tour. Outside the top echelons of the game there’s a very fine margin between all the players – a run of luck (good or bad), a touch of confidence or a streaky putter can be the difference between keeping your card or dropping out of the main Tour.
A great example of that is Benjamin Hebert. He played mainly on the Challenge Tour last year - in great style, winning 3 events (after struggling for form) which automatically elevated him to the main tour. Winning is a bit of a habit and Benjamin has the talent and age on his side to become a big player. He's committed to Mizuno again for 2012.
A few of our other guys had their 2012 seasons determined at the final stages of the Tour School – a gruellling 6 day event in Spain. Some fared better than others, with David Dixon winning the event and Gary Orr securing his card with a last day charge. Others endured the pain of a missed cut.
Alex Haindl turned up at the Tour School with the aim of jumping straight from the Sunshine Tour to the European Tour. The airline losing his clubs (and not knowing where they were) didn't do too much to help his preparation for the most pressurised tournament of his year. But the cool headed South African was back on track within a couple of hours when we made him a new set of irons and wedges for the week. He went on to gain his card and decided to carry on using his lucky MP-69’s this year.
An exciting 're-signing' for Mizuno this season is Marcel Siem who returns after a few years with Callaway - pleased to have him back. Especially as he’s one who always liked our drivers (and he hits it a very long way). Marcel is hugely talented, a touch streaky, but always exciting.
Chris Wood is back from 2 months of injury and is playing the first 4 events on the calendar. He finished 2nd twice last year (one of them losing in a playoff for the Africa Open which Oosthuizen defends this week), but unfortunately that was the highlight of a mixed season where he struggled to get on a run due to problems with his back. Such a tall guy and at such a young age his body is still developing – so he’s a prime candidate for back troubles. The good news is he’s back, stronger and fitter and hopefully in shape to remind everyone what a talent he’s going to be.
Peter Whiteford showed his quality in 2011 – 63rd in the Race to Dubai, helped by 5 top-10 finishes – and he stays with us for 2012. As does 4-time tour winner Ricardo Gonzalez, and 2-time winners Gary Orr, Markus Brier, Ignacio Garrido and Daniel Vancsik.
Other players who will be with us in 2012 are Magnus A Carlsson, Daniel Gaunt, Alexandre Kaleka, Thomas Norret, Carl Suneson and Alvaro Velasco (full list below).
The one thing we know is that its almost impossible to predict next year - who will hit form, who will be injured, who will win an event out of the blue. Go back 12 months and not many 'experts' were predicting Luke Donald's 2011 success.
We're confident that there's enough talent in this pack of players to make an impact in 2012. Better than that, they all wanted to be part of the Mizuno team.
Mizuno PGA European Tour Staff 2012
Markus Brier - Austria
Magnus A Carlsson - Sweden
David Dixon - England
Luke Donald - England
Ignacio Garrido - Spain
Daniel Gaunt - Australia
Ricardo Gonzalez - Argentina
Alex Haindl - South Africa
Benjamin Heber - France
Alexandre Kalek - France
Thomas Norret - Denmark
Gary Orr - Scotland
Marcel Siem - Germany
Carl Suneson - Spain
Daniel Vancsik - Argentina
Alvaro Velasco - Spain
Peter Whiteford - Scotland
Chris Wood - England