Loubser and magnificent seven graduate to big time

It is said that Qualifying School is the ultimate test for any golfer. A battle from start to finish, Q-School is a gut-check week that launches the select few to the top and breaks the spirit of many. And this year, the Sunshine Tour upped the ante even further.

Instead of a 90-hole battle, the Sunshine Tour hosted two First Stage Qualifiers to determine the field that would target the 30 cards on offer for the 2017 season in the final, gruelling contest.

Of the 108 amateur entrants, top-ranked Aubrey Beckley, Jason Smith and Andre Nel received a free pass into the Final Stage at Randpark Golf Club from 13-17 March.

Fellow GolfRSA National squad member Herman Loubser, Luke Jerling, Andrew van der Knaap, Quintin Wilsnach and Combrinck Smit had to tee it up with 130 other hopefuls and navigate 162 pressure-packed and mind-draining holes to secure their privileges in the paid ranks this season.

“That was undoubtedly the toughest two weeks of my golf career,” said Loubser, who defied the odds to claim a two-stroke victory at Final Stage. “I don’t think anything can prepare you for the physical and mental drain of Q-School and I am sure the rest of the guys were just as exhausted as I was, but it was so worth it.”

Van der Knaap from Gauteng North finished sixth, while Beckley from North West, Eastern Province’s Jerling and Nel from Southern Cape tied for eighth. Former SA Stroke Play champion Smith from Gauteng North finished joint 12th with Mpumalanga’s Wilsnach and Smit from KwaZulu-Natal.

More than 300 hopefuls began the journey, but only 34 succeeded.

Loubser was not surprised that eight amateurs featured in the top 12 on the final leaderboard.

“It was definitely to our advantage that they moved the dates to March,” said 18-year-old player from the Theewaterskloof Academy in Boland. “We had our two premier events – the SA Stroke Play and Sanlam SA Amateur Championship – and a bunch of other top amateur events like the African Amateur Championship before Q-School.

“A lot of top international players came to South Africa to compete in those events, so the standard of golf was extremely high. We were highly competitive by the time we went to Q-School.”

Like Beckley, Van der Knaap, Smit, Wilsnach and Jerling, Loubser also competed on the IGT Challenge Tour in anticipation of Q-School.

“I decided to play some the IGT Challenge Tour events between our amateur tournaments and it was a good decision, because competing against the pros gave me a sense of what Q-School would be like,” he said.

Loubser said the toughest part of Q-School was starting the Final Stage with renewed focus.

“Coming through First Stage was a bit of an anti-climax,” he said. “You put all that work in and you are happy for a minute until it hits you that you are back to square one. You’ve made it but you haven’t achieved anything. You start all over again at Final Stage. That was definitely the toughest part.”

Nel, meanwhile, lost a close cousin in an airplane accident on the eve of Q-School. The Kingswood golfer said mental fortitude was his biggest weapon.

“The pressure at Q-School is unbelievable,” said the KeNako Academy player. “Every guy in the field is fighting for a card, so all the time you’re out there, you know the smallest mistake can cost you.

“I was able to shut off everything and just stay in the moment until I walked off the course. There are no do-overs. If you mess up, you have to focus on the next shot. I kept it together mentally, even when I made mistakes, and that got me across the finish line.”

For Beckley, the opportunity to compete internationally last year made all the difference.

“The trip to the United Kingdom with the other members of the GolfRSA National Squad made a huge impression on me,” said the TuksSport Golf Academy player.

“The standard at the events we competed in was so high and if you want to compete at that level, you have to be prepared to do the work in the gym, on the practice range and on the golf course. When I represented South Africa in Argentina at the end of last year, I posted some really good results against top players from around the world. I could see the improvement and that gave me a lot of confidence.

“Playing the IGT Challenge Tour was great, too, because it shortened the gap between the amateur circuit and the pro circuit for me. I didn’t feel intimidated by the pros at Q-School, which I think could be the case with some of the amateurs that haven’t had that kind of exposure.”

Whatever the route that took them to Q-School and whatever the armour that got them through golf’s most gruelling test, all eight are fired up for their professional debut at the Zimbabwe Open next month.

“I guess the reality of having a card will only really hit home when you hit stand on the first tee at Royal Harare and you pray that you don’t shank your tee shot,” Loubser said. “Your whole golfing career is a matter of steps, from when you first pick up a club, though your junior career all the way to making it into the pro ranks.

“Gaining a card is just the next step but I am so relieved that I got it done on my first try. Hopefully Jason, Andre, Aubrey and I will make GolfRSA proud in the year to come and we inspire the juniors that will take over from us this year.”

Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of Golf RSA, a SAGA and WGSA Not-For-Profit company.

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