12 February 2024 – Scotland’s Gregor Graham continued his country’s fine record in the South African Amateur Championship when he edged local favourite Jordan Burnand 4&2 in the 36-hole final at Royal Johannesburg Golf Club.
The Blairgowrie player became the fifth Scot to lift the most sought-after amateur title in South Africa, emulating compatriots Michael Stewart (2011), Brian Soutar (2012), Daniel Young (2015) and Craig Scott (2016).
Burnand, the reigning South African Stroke Play champion and second in the GolfRSA national ranking, was heavily favoured going into the final on home soil, but Graham had shown he was coming into form with a runner-up finish in the Gauteng North Open at The Els Club Copperleaf and a top 10 in the SA Stroke Play at Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate.
The Scotsman produced a near faultless display of golf to take command of the match over the opening 18 holes, racing to a commanding 5-up lead with a barrage of eight birdies in the first 15 holes.
A surprising double-bogey on the 16th handed Burnand a timely boost, and the Ebotse golfer – chasing the rare calendar double – clawed back two holes with successive birdies go 3-down through the first 18 holes.
Both players birdied the 19th hole, and Graham still had a fight on his hands after Burnand birdied the 22nd (fourth) to go 2-down.
However, with the experienced Gregor Tait on the bag, and encouraged by fellow squad members James Morgan, Jack McDonald and Matthew Wilson, as well as Scottish Golf men’s performance coach Spencer Henderson, the Scotsman closed the door on Burnand with a brilliant two on the 30th hole and sealed the win with a final birdie on the 34th hole (16th).
“It’s amazing, I couldn’t be happier,” the 20-year-old Graham. “There is so much Scottish history in this event, so to add to that feels great. I’m delighted to have finally won a big amateur event.”
Graham’s great golf in a championship that was first held in 1892, will see his name etched alongside some of the greats of the game, including five-time Open champion Bobby Lock, Major champions Ernie Els and Trevor Immelman, PGA Tour winner Hugh Biaocchi, and DP World Tour winners George Coetzee and Thriston Lawrence, among others.
As was the case with the four previous Scottish winners, Graham travelled to South Africa as a member of the Scottish Golf Squad, sponsored by the Alfred Dunhill Links Foundation.
The squad annually makes the trek to escape the harsh British winter to prepare for the start of the European season. “We love coming out here,” explained the new champion, who also became the first amateur to triumph on Major winner Paul Lawrie’s Tartan Pro Tour in the Blairgowrie Perthshire Masters last year.
“We stop playing in September, so it’s quite a long off season. We always look forward to getting out to the warm weather and playing tournament golf again. You have such amazing players over here, and it’s great to play against them.”
Graham attributed his success to a strong driving game. “I hit ball very well off the tee and gave myself lots of birdie opportunities,” he said. “Obviously I putted nicely, but I was just taking things one hole at a time and concentrating on giving myself birdie opportunities.”
The Scot made 14 birdies over 34 holes, with his only blemish being a double bogey on the 16th and it was his consistency that wore down his opponent, who was desperate to add the Match Play title to his Stroke Play win a week earlier.
“I’ve put in lots of hard work during the off season, and I’ve been itching to get back in and play tournament golf,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to see all the practice and effort rewarded.”
Scottish National team coach Spencer Henderson was delighted to have produced another South African Amateur champion.
“We have come close in the last few years, and I was even on the bag when Rory [Franssen] lost to Kyle de Beer in the final two years ago, so it is really good to get over the line. Gregor is a guy who has come through the Scottish Golf ranks since he was 13, so for him to win has just been fantastic. He’s a great kid and a really good example for younger players.
“He fought back from five over in the stroke play qualifier, and comfortably made the top 64 and went on to win it. He showed great heart and great determination. “It was a superb final, between two great players. You can tell there was mutual respect, and when someone played a good shot, it was acknowledged by their opponent. That is what golf is all about and sums up what we are trying to achieve with the Scottish Golf system, where good golfers are secondary, good people are first.”
Graham and his Scottish team now turn their attention to the GolfRSA International Amateur at Houghton Golf Club from 13-16 February (previously known as the African Amateur), another event where they have achieved success since it launched in 2016.