Higgo makes struggling start at Junior Invitational

South Africa’s Garrick Higgo battled a balky putter in the first round of the prestigious Junior Invitational in in Graniteville, South Carolina. The Boland junior carded three bogeys on the front nine at Sage Valley Golf Club and pencilled two more on the back nine alongside a birdie at the par five 15th for a seven-over-par 79.

“I struggled with the putter and distance control was also a bit of an issue,” Higgo said.

“It’s just a matter of coming to grips with the pace and getting a proper read on the greens. All the distances are in yards and we are not allowed to use measuring devices, so working out the distances in metres proved a little problematic. I enjoyed the course and it is such a huge honour to be teeing it up in this world class field. I just have to try to improve in each round.”

Current world number two Joaquin Neimann from Chile fired a five under 67 to share the opening round honours with Cameron John from Australia.

Niemann – who defeated South Africa’s Dylan Naidoo for the Individual Title in the Toyota Junior World Cup in Japan last year – is making his third appearance at the Junior Invitational after a banner season in 2016 during which he won six times, including the IMG Junior World Championship.

He opened with a solid drive up “Redbud,” Sage Valley’s opening hole, to set up a birdie start and birdies at all four of the par fives accounted for the majority of his red numbers.

“I played really, really good golf,” said Niemann. “That birdie on the first hole was a big help. I enjoy this golf course, but last year, I did not play well, so that gave me lots of motivation.”

Like Higgo, John is also making his debut in the top international amateur invitational.

The Golf Australia National squad member won the Carrick Neil Scottish Stroke Play Championship last year after breaking the amateur course record at Gullane with a superb 63 and came to Sage Valley on the back of victory in the 2017 Australian Boys Amateur Championship last week.

At 141 in the world amateur golf rankings, a solid performance at Sage Valley will bring him closer to cracking the top 100.

John opened with three pars, then tipped the scales with six birdies and a bogey over his next 12 holes. He only had one practice round that did not go well, but a fortuitous fitting session with TaylorMade put him back on track.

“I hit 12 of 14 fairways, and I hit it a bit longer than I usually do,” said John. “I pulled more wedges than 7 irons today, which I am not used to. That helped.”

Kaito Onishi from Japan is one shot back and alone in third place, while American pair Brandon Gillis and Cole Hammer share fourth on two under with France’s Adrien Pendaries.

Defending champion Austin Eckroat from the United States, attempting to become the first repeat winner, is four off the pace.

Reigning Sanlam SA Stroke Play champion Edgar Catherine from France, also among this year’s participants, opened with a 12-over-par 84.

The 54-hole Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club is widely recognized as one of the premier junior tournaments in the world and attracts many of the game’s top-ranked junior golfers annually.

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Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of GolfRSA, a SAGA and WGSA Not-For-Profit company. Quotes from Niemann and John courtesy of the PGA of America.

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