From the PGA, European and Sunshine Tours to the Olympics, to the manicured greens of the splendid Heritage Golf Club, Jaco Van Zyl is a golfer turned pro who has made it on the list of the world’s Top 50 golfers. The Ambassador of the Heritage Golf Club discusses the game, what drives him and what’s next.
What is your first golf-related memory?
I was about 10 years old, and I started playing golf in a park. There was one little green; the grass was really really long so it was more just of a target, and it was about a five minute ride on my bicycle to get to there.
Many top golfers say they learned the game by studying another golfer’s swing. From whom did you learn?
I was really self-taught and watched a little bit of golf on TV way back when before I even started playing golf, but I was really self-taught and spent a lot of time in the park just swinging it different ways. You know I’m the only one in the family that plays golf so no one could give my any tips and stuff so I kind of just figured my own way out.
At the young age of 21 you turned pro. What would it take for you to take your game to another level?
It was many years ago, and in my sport your career would be at an end already. It just feels that I’m finally breaking through into another level at the ripe old age of 38. I feel I have a good couple of years left in me. Trying to stay in shape, trying to stay fit to compete with the younger guys, but so far so good.
It is said golf is the most private sport played publicly. How do you focus during a tournament? Any pet peeves?
I’m very fortunate in a way where I’ve got a very relaxed nature so I don’t really tense that much. At the end of the day, it’s yourself against the golf course. You want to try and do the best you possibly can on the day. The nice thing about golf is that if you don’t have a great day, you have always got the next day to have another go at it. I focus on what I need to do and on the golf course, and not worry too much about what is going on around me.
A memorable win?
Yeah. I would say it would be my first one on the Sunshine tour. It took me a long time to really break through there. It was at a very small little golf course called MOINOI back in South Africa, I managed to get myself into contention and got into a playoff, and managed to win the playoff.
What was the toughest championship course you went up against?
We played Anahita last year and it was really really tough. The wind was very strong, and I think I ended up finishing tenth. There was literally two guys under par. It was a really tough golf course and tough conditions.
What do you like about golfing in Mauritius?
It’s literally golfing in paradise. It’s a two-minute walk and you’re on the beach. Most of the holes are surrounded by the ocean or next to the ocean. It’s just very different. I lived on the coast for a couple of years back home, and it reminds me a lot of that vibe and that sensation so it’s a very “holiday” vibe but it’s just really it’s a pleasure to play golf here.
What is your role as Ambassador of the Heritage Golf Club, a multi-award winning championship golf course?
Being an ambassador for an establishment like Heritage is obviously a great privilege and honour. Most of it is obviously to create brand awareness and let people know what it’s all about. Golfing in Mauritius is quite a big touristy thing here so obviously try and raise awareness on Heritage Resorts and try to get as many people to come play.
Your favourite hole to play at the Heritage Golf course?
Funny enough I am the brand ambassador; the first time I’ve been here was last night. I didn’t play in 2015, I had surgery on both knees so unfortunately I didn’t play the season of 2015. This is my first time that I’ll be going to be out on the golf course.
What are your thoughts on the 2015 and 2017 editions of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open?
2015 was a huge success and I think this is a great initiative for 2017. A lot of the guys are very excited to come and play. It’s at the end of the season, which I think is absolutely fantastic. After a long year of traveling and grinding it out on the golf course, I think it’s going to be just absolutely perfect to come out here for a week, and spend it on the beach and play a little golf in between.
Your partaking in the Olympics was a bold and honourable move. What did you take away from the Olympics in Rio?
It was just an unbelievable experience. It’s not so much playing the golf but just being a part of the whole Village and the whole team, and the whole vibe, and seeing how other athletes go about their business and then coming out to support us – it was an unbelievable experience, and it’s a huge privilege and honour to be a part of it.
What do you plan to accomplish in 2017?
I had a really good year last year and a very consistent season. I’m still hunting my first elusive win on the European Tour, and plus a couple of weeks ago in Qatar where I lost in a playoff. That’s definitely going to be a goal I have for a very long time. When the first one comes, I’m going to be hunting the second, the third and the fourth. I got off to a really nice start this season, so it’s still hunting at that first one.
How can we make golf more accessible?
It is fairly accessible. In a way where on most golf courses, especially here in Mauritius, you have the option of renting. If you don’t want to pay you can just grab a couple of clubs. From an accessible point of view I think it is probably one of the most accessible sports you can play without being really into golf.
What drives you?
Everyone is mostly scared of something, and I’m scared of failure – not just in my career but as a person. Not wanting to fail more or less makes me just realise how golf was. It’s the one thing that makes me get up in the morning and try and be the best I possibly can be, whether it’s playing golf or whether it’s being a person: how you treat other people… It’s just really trying to be the best you can be on the game.
A sweetest memory?
I am very fortunate in the lifestyle I live. It’s very seldom where you get to do something you don’t really want to do. Just waking up in the morning knowing you’re going to get up and just play golf. It’s a privilege.
Do you watch golf on TV?
I do. Not too much. I’m very selective of the events I do watch. I love watching the Masters, I just think it’s a very special event, very unique in its way. And then I enjoy watching the British Open – it’s just golf in a very different way, in a very different setting than most golf everyone plays. Occasionally I’ll do a little bit of catch-up on the golf, but I just love sitting down and watching it.