RISING star Branden Grace is hoping a Muirfield masterclass from Ernie Els will make him a major contender in East Lothian this summer.
Grace, winner of four European Tour titles last year and the defending champion in this week’s Volvo Golf Champions event in Durban, hasn’t played the Gullane venue before, but the young South African is confident he can learn enough about it from playing a practice round with Els to give him a chance of following in the spikemarks of his fellow countryman.
Els won the last Open at Muirfield in 2002 and the “Big Easy” is set to be grilled by the likes of Grace as he bids to get his name on the Claret Jug this year.
“Ernie is a great guy and I’m sure that a couple of us will play practice rounds with him at Muirfield,” Grace told the Evening News. “We’ll enjoy that and hopefully learn something from him.”
Grace has already reaped the rewards of picking the brains of one South African major winner, having played a practice round with 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen before winning last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.
“That was one of the main keys why I played so well that week,” he added. “He’s enjoyed success there in The Open so he was able to help me picking the right lines and things like that.
“It’s nice that we’ve got players of that calibre like Ernie and Louis that have won big events like those.”
Els will be returning to Muirfield as the defending champion, having claimed his second Claret Jug success at Lytham last summer.
“I’m very excited to be going back,” he said. “I haven’t been back since I won and, to be honest, I can’t wait to get there.
“There’s a lot of golf to be played but it will be a highlight of the year for me to go to The Open at Muirfield as a past winner there and also the defending champion – it will be awesome. It’s one of my favourite courses on the Open rota.”