Kunneke, Tree set early pace at Sanlam SA Amateur

Gauteng North’s Conway Kunneke and Toby Tree of England blazed their way to an early share of the clubhouse lead in the first round of the 36-hole qualifier at the Sanlam South African Amateur Championship.

Tree finished strongly with birdies at his last two holes to join Kunneke, who hit the front with a bogey-free five-under-par 67 at Mowbray Golf Club.

The leading pair have a one shot edge over JP Strydom, Werner Theart and CJ du Plessis and are two clear of Dylan Raubenheimer, Graeme Vrugtman, Hendre Cilliers and Jaco Mouton.

Kunneke birdied twice on his front nine and three times coming home but although he handed in a flawless card, the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation golfer was still frustrated.

“It could have been at least five shots better,” the 19-year-old said. “I was pretty much faultless tee to green, but I really struggled with the putter. I had three lip-outs and two other putts that rolled just an inch short of the hole. All my birdies came with two putts.

“Still, it’s a great position to be in ahead of the match play. My goal is to make the top 32 for the Match Play, but if I can have another round like today and win the Proudfoot, it would be an added bonus.”

Tree launched into action with an eagle at his first hole, the par-five 10th, and picked up a birdie at the 16th. But his momentum was derailed by bogeys at the second and fourth.

“I pushed my drive too far right at the second,” said the 18-year-old Worthing golfer.

“My third finished short of the green and I failed to up-and-down for par. At the fourth hole, I hit a six-iron way right and short-sighted myself again. But I got my round going again with a good birdie at the fifth and another at the sixth, where I hit a wedge to six foot and rolled the putt home.”

Another brace of birdies at the eighth and ninth saw Tree finish exactly where he wants to be this week.

“If I can keep this current form going, I’m going to be in the thick of things later this week. My goal is to win. This is a very prestigious title and the reason I’ve spend the last few weeks in South Africa was to give myself every opportunity to win.”

Central Gauteng’s Vrugtman did not make the grade at Vaal de Grace last year, while Strydom from the Western Province survived the qualifier, but got knocked out in the second round. Both players are determined to go a step further this year.

“I got knocked out in the first round East London Golf Club in 2010 and last year I didn’t make the top 64,” explained Vrugtman, who said that he has never had great results at the coast,

“I realised that it’s a ‘mind over matter’ thing. I decided to focus hole-by-hole and started very well. Then I lost a little focus before the turn and three-putted the eighth and ninth for bogeys. I got my focus back after the turn and hit back with three birdies on the back nine to finish with a 68.

“If I can keep the focus going, I’ll have a good shot of making the match play and get through some rounds in the match play.”

Strydom downed Thabo Maseko 2/1 in last year’s first round, but lost to Aubrey Barnard 5/4 in the next. He is relishing the chance to compete at home and at least get past the second round, but the Durbanville golfer said he would first have to figure out the greens.

“I hit the ball extremely well all day, but four of my birdies came from two putts,” he said. “The only one-putt birdie I had was the seven-footer at 16. I struggled to read the greens, which is strange, because they run very true. I may just have been over-reading my putts, who knows, but I’m happy enough to be in contention with a 68.”

The country’s leading pair, Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous, are teeing off in the afternoon field alongside Scottish Golf Union Men’s Squad players Scott Crichton and Daniel Kay, as well as Central Gauteng’s Sipho Bujela and Curtis Griffiths of England.

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