Bezuidenhout seeks home glory at SA Stroke Play

While former SA Stroke Play champion Richard Sterne will lead the country’s finest against a strong international challenge in his title defence at the Joburg Open, Ekurhuleni’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout will spearhead the local challenge against a large foreign presence when the South African Stroke Play Championship tees off at Benoni Country Club on Tuesday.

The South African Golf Association’s current number one kicked off the season with runner-up finishes at the Prince’s Grant Invitational and KZN Stroke Play in early January, followed by a seventh place at the Gauteng North Stroke Play.

This past weekend, the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation member polished his preparation with a six stroke victory at the Free State Vodacom Amateur Stroke Play Championship.

Bezuidenhout will certainly carry a lot of confidence into the prestigious championship after a superb start to his 2014 campaign and the numbers certainly favour the 19-year-old Nigel golfer.

However, Bezuidenhout has a slightly more cautious view.

“I definitely feel confident going into the tournament, because I’ve had a solid start to the season,” he said. “I also know the course well, because we played a lot of junior and union events here and nothing will give me greater pleasure than to win here, in front of the home crowd.

“But these reasons won’t guarantee a win; I will just have to work at it, like everyone else.”

In addition to warding off the challenges of top ranked players like Zander Lombard, Thriston Lawrence and fellow Ekurhuleni challenger NJ Arnoldi, Bezuidenhout also warned that the South Africans are up against what he calls “the unknown entity”.

“There are 40 foreigners from more than 10 nations playing this week and these guys are the cream of the crop in their countries,” he said.

“We don’t really know what to expect from them and that’s why I say that statistics mean nothing. You have to go out there, and prove yourself all over again in a field like this.”

Number two Lombard agrees.

“I think the SA Stroke Play and Sanlam SA Amateur Match Play are the two majors of South African amateur golf and they are to two most sough-after titles on the circuit,” said the 19-year-old, who held the number one spot for four months last year.

“Both events carry a lot of world ranking points and the international entry gets bigger each year as the foreigners recognise the status of these events. Everyone wants their name on the trophy.”

Lawrence, who was just 16 years, two months and 26 days old when he became the youngest winner of the Sanlam SA Amateur last year, dearly wants to add the Stroke Play title to his tally.

The Mpumalanga teenager chose to prepare for this year’s championship on the Open Amateur circuit, instead of the junior events in January – a decision that paid handsome dividends.

Following a fourth at the Prince’s Grant Invitational, Lawrence beat Bezuidenhout by one stroke to win the KZN Stroke Play and claimed a runner-up finish at the Gauteng North Stroke Play. This weekend he shared victory with three junior team-mates in a Test against the French at Serengeti.

Although Lawrence is quietly confident, he too, remains cautious.

“You have members of the Scottish Golf Union’s Mens National Squad, 12 top French amateurs and four top players from the United Kingdom in the field and a bunch of other foreigners,” Lawrence said. “You’re not only up against the best in South Africa, but possibly the best from Europe. I think the guys will get to know the layout and kinks of this layout as the tournament progresses and the competition will only get tougher.”

The SA Amateur Stroke Play Championship will be played over 72 holes, and the field of 144 will be cut to 65 and ties after 36 holes.

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