Local challengers bidding for home glory at SA Amateur Stroke Play

A determined posse of Kwazulu-Natal’s top golfers are ready to throw down the gauntlet at the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship, which tees off at Mount Edgecombe Country Club from 8-11 February 2011.

Jared Harvey, Gavin Sole, Steven van Heerden and Chris van der Merwe – all members of the triumphant 2009 KZN Inter-Provincial team – lead the charge alongside local favourite Michael Hollick.

The Mount Edgecombe member joined the fearsome foursome at Pretoria Country Club last year and helped them chase winners Western Province all the way to the finishing line.

“Without a doubt we want to keep the title at home,” said in-form Van Heerden.

The Margate player holds the current number 12 spot on the South African Golf Association rankings after picking up a couple of top fives finishes and wining the EP/Border Open in March last year.

“KwaZulu-Natal has hosted the SA Stroke Play half-a-dozen times when it was still the qualifier for the South African Match Play,” the 24-year-old explained.

“The first three times the local guys won, but then Ernie (Els) came along and we lost the momentum.”

The brothers Kevin and David Suddards won the SA Strokeplay in 1971 and 1978 at Durban Country Club respectively. In 1983, Peter van der Riet triumphed in a play-off over Duncan Lindsay-Smith and Chin-Han Yau, this time at Royal Durban Golf Club.

South Africa’s number one Els trumped the local contingent at Maritzburg Golf Club in 1992 and Gauteng’s Johnny Nelson followed suit, winning the 1992 edition at Royal Durban.

“And the last time KwaZulu-Natal hosted the SA Stroke Play was in 1998 here at Mount Edgecombe and wouldn’t you know that another out-of-towner (Trevor Immelman) won it,” Van Heerden joked.

“No, this year the title has to stay in the Zulu Kingdom and it’s up to us to make it happen.”

The 14-man local delegation could have their bid for glory thwarted by a strong international challenge.

Led by Michael Stewart and David Law, the reigning and 2009 Scottish Amateur champions respectively, as well as Alexander Levy, one of the six top French amateurs entered for the event, a total of 23 foreigners from seven countries will be gunning for one of the most prestigious amateur titles on the South African golfing calendar.

“Apart from the Scottish and French players, we will also have to contend with tough opposition from the top South African golfers in the country, like Danie (van Tonder), Brandon (Stone), Ruan (de Smidt) and Haydn Porteous,” said 17th ranked Van der Merwe.

But a recent eighth place at the Prince’s Grant Invitational and fourth at the KwaZulu-Natal Open has given the 23-year-old a lot of confidence ahead of the championship.

“I think our local knowledge could be the deciding factor, especially when the wind gets up,” he said.

“The number one course here at Mount Edgecombe can appear tame enough because it starts with four shortish holes. But the layout builds in strength and you have to have your wits about you when you are coming down the closing stretch with the north-easter blowing into you.

“That’s when you have to play target golf and that’s when I think the local guys will have the visitors’ number.”

Peya, a member of France’s winning Eisenhower Trophy team in 2010, agrees. “In our practice round we found the greens quite tricky,” he said. “The grain is very different to what we are used to in France and also slow.” Peya said his compatriots also found the front nine easier to negotiate than the back nine.

“The greens on the last holes are very small and the fairways narrow. It was tough in the heat with the swirling wind, and if the wind starts to blow, it will be very difficult.”

The SA Amateur Stroke Play is played over 72 holes, and the field of 144 will be cut to 65 and ties after 36 holes.

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