Local rivals bid for glory at Sanlam SA Amateur
A determined posse of Gauteng North golfers will throw down the gauntlet in the Sanlam South African Amateur Championship, which tees off at Silver Lakes Golf Estate on Sunday.
Former SA Stroke Play champion Jason Smith spearheads the local challenge alongside Hendrikus Stoop and recent Free State Open champion Keegan de Lange, respectively second, fifth and seventh on the current South African Golf Association Open Amateur rankings.
The trio will join 25 fellow Gauteng North players in a bid for South Africa’s most prestigious amateur title, including 11th ranked Teaghan Gauche and local favourite Marco Loubser, who lifted the Gauteng North U-23 title a week ago.
The international World Amateur Golf Ranking event tees off with a 36-hole Stroke Play Qualifier and only the top 64 finishers will advance to the Match Play Championship.
Stoop finished one stroke shy of the qualifier target last year, while Smith and De Lange were handed their marching orders in the first round of the championship at Hermanus Golf Club.
Over the last 12 months, the country’s number two ranked Smith gained valuable experience representing the country in the Zone VI Golf Championship, the World Amateur Team Championship and the Juan Carlos Tailhade Cup and polished his match play skills in the sixth annual Leopard Trophy against Scotland earlier this month.
“The last year has taught me to take every tournament one shot at the time,” said Smith.
“Match play is unpredictable, but hopefully I can draw on my experience to make it all the way to the final.”
For Gauche, winning the Sanlam SA Amateur Championship title would be the crowning glory of a long and arduous climb back to the upper echelons of the rankings.
In December 2013, a car accident very nearly ended his promising career.
The 22-year-old Wingate Park player broke his C3 and C4 vertebrae and faced months of rehabilitation after surgery.
“There was no point in rushing the rehabilitation, because you want the work to have a lasting effect,” Gauche said.
“I followed a very strict programme and I took no shortcuts, because it inevitably catches up to you. It was six months before I start putting and another month before I could practice chipping. It took more than a year to get back to the kind of form I held before the accident.
“When I reached the final of the KZN Amateur Match Play, I knew I was ready to challenge again.”
The TuksSport Golf Acadamy player fought his way back into the top 15 and started the 2015 season with a top five finish in the Gauteng North Stroke Play.
Gauche was disappointed with a tie for 43rd in the South African Stroke Play Championship, but put his match play prowess on display in the recent Leopard Trophy. He partnered Smith to victory in both foursomes against the Scots and defeated Ben Kinsley 5&4 in the final round for South Africa’s only point in the Singles.
“Playing the Sanlam SA Amateur here at home is a real opportunity,” he said. “This is our flagship event and I want to make the most of my chances this week.”
In 2011, Michael Stewart defeated compatriot Paul Shields in an all-Scottish final to lift the Sanlam South African Amateur Championship title at Vaal de Grace and a year later, Fife golfer, Brian Soutar won again for Scotland at Mowbray Golf Club.
Although South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence kept the trophy on home soil with back-to-back victories in 2013 and 2014, the local delegation could have their bid for glory thwarted by a strong Scottish challenge this year.
Seven members of the victorious eight-man team at Leopard Creek will contest at Silver Lakes, as well as 2014 Scottish Hydro Boys Order of Merit winner, Calum Fyfe, and 2013 Paul Lawrie Junior Jug champion, Murray Naysmith.
Other top contenders to watch this week include the country’s number one ranked Tristen Strydom, in-form juniors Dylan Naidoo, Rosswell Sinclair, Paul Boshoff, Herman Loubser, Marco Steyn, Luca Filippi, Luke Mayo, Anuerin Gounden and 2014 Proudfoot Trophy winner, Jovan Rebula.
Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of the South African Golf Association.