Lombard’s Amateur loss a Blessing
Bradley Neil became the first Scot in a decade to lift the Amateur Championship title after he edged out South Africa’s Zander Lombard in a tension-fraught final at Royal Portrush on Sunday.
The match was all square through the first 18 holes and remained a closely fought affair after the first nine holes of the final 18. However, with four holes to play, Lombard lost the 13th and 14th holes and Neil went 4-up. The South African fought back valiantly with successive birdies to keep the match alive, but a par on the 35th hole was enough to seal a 2 & 1 victory for the Scot.
Lombard made the top 32 last year, but reaching the final was the biggest achievement in his career.
The 19-year-old Woodhill golfer was hoping to become only the second South African winner of the prestigious title after Bobby Cole, who lifted the title in 1966.
“Of course I was disappointed at first, but I am really proud of my achievement,” said the Pretoria golfer.
“My golf was good all week and we both played solid golf in the final round. I had two bad holes that really cost me.
“Thumbs-up to Brad, though. He is just an awesome golfer with a lot of talent. We’re good friends and it is always nice to have great company on the golf course.”
Lombard plans to leave for the USA in July to compete in a couple of events in preparation for the US Amateur Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club from 11-17 August.
In retrospect, he views the runner-up finish as a blessing in disguise.
“When we planned the trip, we had to do it all around my qualifying venue for the US Amateur. If I won, I would have had to cancel most of the events to make the Open, where I could have missed the cut.
“Now, with the points that I’ve earned for finishing second at the Amateur Championship, I will be well inside the top 50 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings and won’t have to pre-qualify anymore.
“It has actually worked out for the best for both if us. Now I can really focus on the US experience.”
In addition to the US Amateur, Lombard plans to compete in the Players Amateur in South Carolina, the Southern Amateur Championship in Tennessee, the Porter Cup in New York and the Western Amateur Championship in Illinois.
“All the experience I will gain from competing in these events and the US Amateur will be invaluable in my preparation for the World Amateur Team Championship later this year,” he said.
“At the end of the day, things have worked out better than I could have hoped for.”
The SA number two was full of praise for his bagman, fellow SA amateur Louis Taylor, and national coach, Llewellyn van Leeuwen.
“Louis volunteered to caddie for me and he was the perfect man to have on the bag,” Lombard said.
“He had a tough job, with two rounds each day, but he never complained. He kept me relaxed and it was great to have someone to talk to. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
“Lew went across as our team coach, but he is also my coach at TuksSport, so it was absolutely brilliant to have him to turn to between rounds. He kept me focussed on the end goal.
“I want to thank the South African Golf Association for selecting me for the Tour to Scotland and for giving me these amazing opportunities.
“I also want to applaud them for changing our tickets – mine, Louis and Lew’s – when we finished a day later than planned due to the weather delays. It meant the world to me that they were both there for me during the final round.”
Meanwhile Neil became the first Scot to win the title since Stuart Wilson won the 2004 Championship at St Andrews. The victory also earned him spots in the 2014 Open Championship and the 2005 US Open.
Neil spent eight weeks in South Africa earlier this year as part of the Scottish Golf Union’s winter training session. During the Tour, the Scot also claimed a joint runner-up finish in the prestigious South African Stroke Play Championship.
His opponent was no stranger to the Scot.
“Zander is a brilliant guy and we have been good friends for the past six months,” Neil said.
“He is a very strong, determined player. He didn’t make it easy for me. He has a lot of game and is a really good talent.”
Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of the South African Golf Association.