Many young golfers grow up with a mentor but when your uncle has won four Majors and 74 Tour victories around the world including the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters, it’s fair to say you have a mentor advantage. This is the case for 24 year old Jovan Rebula whose mother, Carina, is Ernie Els’ sister.
Jovan has already carved out an impressive amateur career, winning The Amateur Championship in 2018 and also defeating Viktor Hovland to win the 2019 Georgina Cup. Now he is preparing to follow the list of great South Africans that have made a name for themselves on the DP World Tour. Having teed it up previously at the 2019 Dubai Desert Classic with his uncle, Jovan is about to make his Qatar Masters debut later this month, an event Ernie won back in 2005. We caught up with Jovan to find out more about his mentor and his expectations for the future.
What has it been like growing up playing golf in SA having Ernie as your uncle? Many might think that to be huge advantage but did it put a target on your back?
I guess I got pretty lucky in that deal with Ernie being my uncle and growing up learning the game in South Africa. He has been my biggest supporter of my career so far and someone I’m truly thankful for. Now I am honestly trying to create my own reputation and he is fully supportive of that as well.
What have you learnt the most from Ernie and who else has been instrumental in your game?
The older I have become the more we spoke about a professional career. The main thing that I learned from him is to just be your own person, play your own game and focus on yourself. Be grateful for every opportunity that comes your way and take full advantage of that. The main thing he tells me is to just enjoy myself because not everyone is so privileged to play this game for a living.
By winning the 2018 Amateur Championship you earned starts in all four Majors. What an experience but what did you learn from teeing it up with the best in the world in the highest regarded events in the game?
Man it was so cool. I guess I was one of the lucky ones that played well at the right time to play in all of those Majors. I could give you a long list of stories but the main thing that I learned during those weeks was the importance of preparation. Obviously, those are such long weeks and my excitement just got the better of me. So, time and energy management are key. People tend to put a bit more pressure on themselves because it’s such an important week and it only happens four times a year, but at the end of the day it’s just another golf course and another tournament week. That has been a crazy time but it did not affect me too badly. I ended up spending another year at Auburn University where I pursued my college career and it gave me another year to prepare for the pro ranks.
Turning professional on the brink of a pandemic, the timing couldn’t have been worse. How has Covid affected your game and plans?
When the time came for me to turn pro it was at the start of the pandemic and I was only able to enter a limited number of events. But it gave me some time to work on things you could not achieve during a full season . I just tried to create positive situations although it was not great.
You have defeated Viktor Hovland as an amateur and he has gone on to do okay! What can you take from that and your success as a leading amateur going into the professional ranks?
You know being able to play with guys of such calibre, and having played with them a lot during college, just gives you that bit of extra motivation and belief. Viktor is a great guy and also an unbelievable player. Seeing what he has achieved just gives you confidence in turning pro.
You are not a stranger to competing in the Middle East having played the Dubai Desert Classic in 2019. What are your thoughts on playing in the region and how do the courses suit your game?
I am just very excited! Playing desert golf is obviously something you do not do every day and I am just so grateful for the opportunity to compete with the best players in the world at the Qatar Masters this month. Desert golf is awesome and when you look at the success rate of South Africans in the region, I guess the pressure is on.
Now you are teeing it up at the 2022 Qatar Masters which is another event Ernie has won. Will he give you tips on playing the course?
I will definitely be giving him a call closer to the event. I guess that is one of the perks, having him on speed dial. I am extremely grateful to be able to play in this event as it has some incredible name etched on that trophy.
Why do many South African players not only enjoy the event and course but also find it a useful springboard for their careers?
I know, it is unbelievable how well South Africans have been playing in Qatar over the years. Hopefully the week will jump-start my career.
Do you travel with other South African players to events and what is the camaraderie like between you all?
All the South African players are very close to each other and have such a great camaraderie. There’s going to be a couple of guys playing in Qatar and I’m looking forward to having dinner with them and playing some practice rounds. I am still new to the pro ranks and do not know too many people, but I guess you need to start somewhere.
Apart from Ernie are there any other players you have learned from or admire how they play the game?
I have pretty much tried to imitate Ernie on the golf course from the moment I first picked up a club. Even if we were not related, I still would want to do everything exactly like he does on the golf course. I have grown up watching Rory McIlroy as well, and in all honesty I love his approach to the game. I’ve been listening to a lot of his interviews and he is such an inspirational person. He is just trying to make the game better and be a good person, I know that’s what I strive to do.
Distance is a crucial element these days. Is distance something you work on in the gym or does it come naturally?
Not at all. I experimented with it for a little while and trying to chase distance was just not beneficial to my game. I have been working out in the gym but for different reasons. When it comes to distance and my game, I wanted to be as natural as possible.
Will we be seeing more of you on the DP World Tour this year?
That is the plan! Obviously just recently turning pro you don’t really get to pick and choose where to play. I am playing in Qatar on a sponsor’s exemption which I’m truly grateful for as these type of weeks may change my career. As a young boy I have dreamt of playing on the DP World Tour. Hopefully with a couple of good weeks and great opportunities I could secure a Tour Card.