Els looking to repeat history at Sanlam SA Amateur

When four-time Major winner Ernie Els lifted the South African Amateur Championship title in 1986, his father Neels was the first person to share in the prestigious celebration. But Neels Els never expected to go through it all again.

Twenty-seven years later, having covered miles of global fairways with his famed son in the last three decades, Els Snr was back where it all started, but this time, he was not just cheering on his grandson, Jovan Rebula, but doing bag-duty, as well.

The 15-year-old nephew of Els made his debut in the country’s flagship amateur event on Sunday and Els Snr said this was an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.

“I honestly can’t remember when I last carried a bag, but when I heard Jovan qualified for the Sanlam SA Amateur, I actually asked him for his bag,” said Els, who turns 70 next month.

“I wanted to do this while I still could and I thoroughly enjoyed the first two days of the qualifier. We are actually doing good and my legs still have plenty of life left in them.”

Good is actually an understatement, considering Rebula tied for second in the 36-hole Stroke Play Qualifier and cruised through his first round in the match play. The youngster was quick to point out that his bagman was crucial to his campaign.

“My grandpa knows my game the best, so I turn to him when I’m not certain about a shot, distance or a line,” he said. “He is great at keeping me focussed and calm under pressure. He is the best guy for the job.”

The Southern Cape teenager shot a passable even-par 72 in the opening round at the Rockland’s course on Sunday, but a sizzling five under 67 boosted him to joint second alongside top English golfer Toby Tree, Pretoria’s Philip Kruse and Gerlou Roux from the Western Province.

On Monday, Haydn Porteous claimed the prestigious Proudfoot trophy with a five shot victory, but unlike the South African number one, the young Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation golfer still has a chance to rewrite golfing history this week.

Porteous had his bid for the coveted double cut short when Harrismith golfer Louis Taylor, knocked in a superb 60-footer for birdie at the 18th. Rebula, meanwhile, kept his campaign alive with a feisty 3&2 result against Scotland’s Connor O’Neil.

Els remembers watching Ernie become the youngest winner SA Amateur just a few months after his 17th birthday. Although Desvonde Botes broke the record by 20 days in 1991, Els thinks that his grandson could emulate his and give the Els family another youngest winner record.

“Rovan has a chance to go all the way and beat his uncle’s record, but we still have to play a lot of golf to get to that point.”

Young Rebula refuses to speculate that far ahead.

“I’m playing well and I enjoy the format,” he said. “I’m striking the ball well, but I have to eliminate a few silly mistakes. I made a few today and it could have cost me.”

He was two up after six holes, but failed to take advantage at the two par fives. “Connor was on trouble at the seventh. I was on the green, but I missed my putt and we halved with pars. Then I made a silly drop at the eighth. We halved the ninth, but then I three-putted the 10th to go all square.”

Rebula took back command with a birdie at the 11th and although the Scotsman won another hole coming down the home stretch, the South African birdied the 16th to wrap up a 3&2 victory.

“Jovan changed his mindset, put the previous holes out of his mind and got his momentum going again,” Els Snr said. “We got the win and we live to fight another day.”

In other results, Pretoria’s Tristen Strydom beat Kruse, former professional Roux announced his intentions with a 7&6 victory over Jason Rossiter, Mpumalanga’s Thriston Lawrence and Hennie du Plessis from Limpopo stayed in the running and Glacier Junior Series Final winner Jason Froneman hit back from four down to beat 2009 champion Ryan Dreyer 1-Up.

Taylor’s twin brother, Eddie, also wrapped up his match against Adam Dunton at the first extra hole and the brothers could come up against each other if both get through the second round.

“It was a lot tougher playing Haydn than I thought it would be because we are such good mates,” Taylor said. “It was pretty hard watching my mate three-putt twice, and I can only imagine how hard it will be if I meet Eddie in the last 16. But this is what we play for, so we’ll just have to tough it out.”

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