YORKSHIRE champion Jamie Bower heads to South Africa today as part of a pioneering England Golf trip that will see him compete in six tournaments over six weeks.
It is the first time that England Golf have sent their men’s squad to this particular country for warm-weather pre-season competition.
But it will be Bower’s second trip to South Africa, having played in their amateur championship in Cape Town four years ago.
“It seems a long time ago,” he laughed, adding, “I loved it, but I didn’t do very well – I missed the cut. Obviously I wasn’t as good back then as I am now.”
There is no hint of boastfulness in the statement; after all, in 2015 he not only won the county title at Fulford but also reached the semi-finals of the English Amateur championship – only losing in a sudden-death play-off – made his senior England debut in the Home Internationals and earned selection for the 2016 England Golf men’s squad.
“I’m hoping I learned from the last trip and can do a bit better this time,” he added.
One lesson he absorbed is the need to cope with the different grasses found in South Africa
“South African grass is the main thing I have to get used to, I know that from last time,” he said. “I’ll be spending practice time ahead of the first tournament when I get there doing a lot of chipping and putting around the greens to try to get the feel of it.
“It’s completely different to anything we’re used to and you have to learn how the ball will come out and how it will roll.
“The rough at the side of fairways will also be different for iron shots, but it’s mainly pitching and chipping around the greens where you find the big difference.”
Bower also helped Yorkshire win the EGU Northern Counties title last summer and was due to represent the White Rose as their title-holder in the Champion of Champions event at Woodhall Spa when injury befell him.
A wear-and-tear wrist complaint forced him to pull out of the mid-September event, and impaired his preparations for Qualifying School, although he refused to use this as a mitigating factor for failing to make it through the first stage at Frilford Heath in Oxfordshire.
“It was a little bit of a hindrance at Q School, but I can’t really use that as an excuse,” he said. “It didn’t really affect my golf there, I was shot of it before I went.
“It affected my preparation, I guess, but I had at least a week where I could hit balls again free from the injury.”
The silver lining of not – as yet – being eligible to try to claim a portion of the pot of gold on offer on the European Tour is being part of his country’s elite squad.
His county team-mate Jonathan Thomson, of Lindrick, was among those selected for an England Golf group that has been in Australia this month; another party was dispatched to South America to play in the amateur championship.
Bower will compete in the Gauteng North Stroke Play, the South African Stroke Play, the African Open, the Southern Cape Open Stroke Play, the Cape Province Open and the South African Amateur.
Only the latter includes match play golf, mirroring the English Amateur championship whereby a 36-hole stroke play event is used to produce a match play field.
Bower – who put his Yorkshire amateur championship trophy on display in Meltham’s clubhouse by way of thanking the members for their support over the years – is looking forward to wearing the England Golf crest on his chest in South Africa.
“It’s been a big goal of mine for a while to get into the England men’s squad, it’s quite a big honour,” he said. “It will be really good to get some warm weather golf down there before the start of our season back here.”