Lawrence on brink of Sanlam SA Amateur history

One more victory and Mpumalanga teenager Thriston Lawrence could become the youngest player to lift the Sanlam South African Amateur Championship title since the prestigious tournament launched in 1906.

The 16-year-old Nelspruit golfer dispatched South Africa’s number two Zander Lombard 2&1 in the morning quarterfinals and held his nerve to beat Country Club Johannesburg’s own Louis Taylor by the same margin to reach the final on Thursday.

But the reigning SA Boys U-19 Match Play champion knows he is in for a tough battle against Southern Cape’s unheralded Andrew Light.

“Andrew is a great golfer and you can never underestimate him,” the youngster said. “He has a very solid match play record and he has a lot of experience. If you just look at his matches this week, you have to know he is going to bring it on Friday.”

After knocking out Matthew Spacey 3&1 in the quarters, Light made good on his promise to ensure an all-South African final for the first time since 2009 when he sent Scotland’s Ewan Scott packing with a 3&2 result.

Turning his attention to Lawrence, the George golfer says he expects a close match.

“Thriston is a very talented player and he is a gritty competitor,” Light said. “He is quite mature and has lot of patience, especially in the match play format. I think the match will be quite tight.”

Light ranks 10th on the South African Golf Association’s rankings, but he is still chasing that elusive first national title. “To finally win, and to do it on this stage, would be incredible, but I can’t focus on that now,” the 23-year-old said. “I need to keep my head in the game.”

His young opponent still campaigns on the junior circuit and won a national order of merit event in January, but started testing the waters at senior level at the recent South African Stroke Play at Oubaai, where he tied for 10th and launched to 12th in the rankings.

Ironically, Taylor was the favourite going into the semi-final and had the early advantage with a birdie at the second. A pulled tee shot at the par-four fifth proved to be his undoing. Trying to recover, Taylor hit his second just short of the water and duffed his third shot into the drink.

The resulting double bogey opened the door for Lawrence, who two putted for par, birdied the seventh to take charge of the match and never relented.

The youngster moved two clear when Taylor bogeyed the 10th and widened the gap with birdie number three at the par-four 14th. Showing maturity beyond his years, Lawrence said he just needed to hold his nerve to close out the win.

“The pressure was on Louis to catch me,” he said. “I just had to focus and par the rest of the holes to protect my lead. That’s the kind of position you want to be in. But I don’t mind a bad start either, because I like to have a target to chase.”

Light, in turn, was two down after three holes, but Scott bogeyed the fourth and fifth and the match was back to all square. “I knew I had to take advantage and turn matters around,” said Light, who responded with back-to-back birdies at seventh and eight for a two shot lead.

When Scott doubled the 11th, Light moved three clear, but the Scotsman rallied with a brace of birdies at the 12th and 13th holes to narrow the gap. Standing over a two-meter putt at the 15th, Little said he knew he couldn’t miss. “This was do or die. I had just missed two putts I should have made, so this one had to drop.”

The birdie gave him back his two shot cushion and par at the 16th sealed the deal.

Looking ahead at the final, Lawrence downplayed the fact that he could add his name to those of Major winners Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman, as well as five-time European Tour champion Richard Sterne on the coveted trophy, and could rewrite South Africa’s golfing history by breaking a record that has stood 21 years.

Desvonde Botes was 16 years and five months old when he defeated Barry Sundleson at Royal Johannesburg for the title in 1991. But Lawrence, who turned 16 on 3 December, says records will be the last thing on his mind when he tackles Light on Friday.

“I stuck to my game plan against Zander and Louis and I’ll need to stick to my strategy against Andrew,” he said. “Match play is such a fickle thing. One day you can win with six under and the next match you can win with a 72. You have to keep your focus.”

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