Lawrence passes SA Open baptism of fire

Reigning Sanlam SA Amateur champion Thriston Lawrence had a bird’s eye view of big time golf at the 103rd SA Open at Glendower on Thursday. The 16-year-old Nelspruit teenager was grouped with 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and European Tour winner Scotsman Scott Jamieson in round one and after 18 holes, a mightily relieved Lawrence declared: “I’m glad it’s all over.”

The biggest gallery on the opening day of the world’s second oldest Open belonged to favourite Schwartzel and as the crowd wound its way around the course, Lawrence was sucked into the spirit of the occasion.

Schwartzel returned with a five-under-par 67 and Lawrence was a further four shots adrift but his 71 was two better than that of Jamieson, who clocked in with a 73.

Lawrence had no idea that Schwartzel would attract so much attention when their round started out.

“It was very stressful at the beginning because suddenly there were just so many people around when we teed off,” said Lawrence. “But as we went around, I managed to settle down and I realised the crowd wasn’t watching me.”

The pressure of a large gallery looked to take a toll on Lawrence, though, as he dropped three shots in his opening loop from 10 to 18.

“I was playing better as we went around, but I wasn’t happy with my driver,” said Lawrence. “These fairways are very narrow, so with my driver not behaving, I needed my irons to work really well.”

Lawrence closed with a flawless last nine, which included two birdies. He said the one big advantage of playing in Schwartzel’s group was that it really tested his focus.

“I felt at the start that it may be a distraction, but I realised that this will be testing my focus,” said Lawrence. “As I tried to stay focused, it meant that watched Charl less and less and that was a good thing, because I concentrated on my own game.

“I’m very happy with my score and I think it will go even better. I’m just the first round is out of the way.”

With the cut looming on Friday afternoon, Lawrence might do well to take a little advice from the world number 22.

Schwartzel was full of praise for Lawrence afterwards, but cautioned against the use of the driver with gay abandon. “I watched Thriston today, and he is a fantastic player. He hits the ball really well and a long way, but he plays like a 16-year-old. He takes the driver everywhere. If it works, it works, but you have to manage your way around the course and you can’t afford to hit so many wayward shots. “

Central Gauteng’s Louis Taylor joined Lawrence at one under, while the country’s number one ranked amateur, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, finished two shots adrift. Fellow Ekurhuleni golfer NJ Arnoldi closed with a 74 and SA number two, Zander Lombard, signed for a 77.

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