IT is somewhat of an understatement when South African golfer Jaco Van Zyl says 2014 was a big year for him.
The 38-year-old spent four months in a wheelchair and another six weeks on crutches after a double knee reconstruction.
Then his marriage broke up and he lost 32 kilograms, dropping from 104 to 72 kg.
“I’ve never been the most athletic person in the world,” he says after his third round with teammate George Coetzee at the World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath.
“I started sports rehab after the operation and worked really, really hard for six months.
“Then I started training really hard for the next few months after that.
“I needed to do something with my fitness otherwise the knees (they kept ‘popping out’ during a round of golf) were going to be a recurring problem.”
THREE KEY HOLES AT KINGSTON HEATH:
He and Coetzee signed for a 1-under 71 in the alternate shot format to be 3-under through 54 holes and T13 behind runaway leaders Denmark.
But the affable South Afircan will be calling on the same mindset he employed to shed kilos in 2014 when he and Coetzee tee up in the better ball format tomorrow.
Losing such a massive amount of weight required a change of mindset but anyone can do it, “if you put your mind to it,” he said.
“Training is a big part of it but 90 per cent of your weight is basically what you put in your mouth,” he says.
“I enjoyed my burgers and I was a pretty heavy drinker. I eat really healthy now and would be lucky if I ever have one drink, even socially.
“I am also now conscious of what I eat. I eat a lot more regularly and when I do eat, it is slow-releasing energy.”
Doctors insisted Van Zyl lose weight before his double knee operation.
“I lost 10 kilograms and at 90g (kg) it was a little bit voluptuous but the operation was doable,” he said.
“I knew I needed to get myself into shape if I wanted to play golf for a few more years out here.”
He has had three top-10 finishes on the European Tour this year with a standout at the BMW Championship at Wentworth where he finished in a tie for seventh.
He also by-passed the Open and the USPGA this year in order to prepare for the Olympics in Rio.
“I had a very, very bad flu and decided against playing the two majors 70 per cent fit and went home to recover before Rio,” he says.
“I figured there are four majors every year and the Olympics is only once every four years.
“I didn’t play well but it was great to be there and part of a support group for the swimmers and the athletes.
“We (golfers) are very lucky to do what we do. A lot of people work a lot harder and a lot longer than we do so it was a privilege to be able to represent golf at the Olympics.”
With all that he’s been through, Van Zyl is delighted just to be at Kingston Heath this week and part of the World Cup of Golf, an event South Africa has won five times.
He and Coetzee were playing well on Saturday until they lost their momentum after losing their tee shot in the bushes and taking double bogey six at the 402-metre 16th.
But Van Zyl remained upbeat. “It’s been great this week,” he said.
“It’s an unbelievable golf course and you’ve got to think your way around it and be very creative with shots, not just off the tee but into the greens as well.
“It’s quite crucial to be on the right part of the green. It is not a bombers’ paradise.
“You’ve just got to keep it in play. It reminds me of a lot of the coastal golf courses back home.
“It’s also nice to come and play on a golf course that’s more traditional than these resort courses we often play.”
Fit and slim and with a new love (South African girlfriend, Stacey), Van Zyl believes he can play the game for at least another seven years.
“I used to be absolutely exhausted after I played. Now when I finish I can still have a workout or go and work on my game,” he says.
“My energy levels are unbelievable compared to where they used to be.”
Coetzee and Van Zyl will tee off in the final round with Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry at 11.15am.
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