SA Amateur champ relish SA Open debut alongside Stenson

Nelspruit teenager Thriston Lawrence lives by a simple motto: “If you believe it, you can do it”.

This November, the reigning Sanlam SA Amateur champion from Mpumalanga will be living his dream he makes his debut alongside four of the country’s top amateurs in the 103rdSouth African Open Championship.

When he lifted the national amateur title at 16 years, two months and 26 days this March, Lawrence not only became the youngest winner in the 106 year history of the prestigious event, but also secured his berth in the line-up of the country’s flagship event at Glendower Golf Club from 21-24 November.

Thrilled at the prospect of playing the Sunshine and European Tour co-sanctioned event, the junior golfer consigned the news that he will spending the first two rounds of the in the company of world number four and defending champion, Henrik Stenson, to that “once-in-a-lifetime” category.

“I was extremely excited when I realised that I qualified to play the SA Open, because it has been my dream since I first picked up a golf club,” Lawrence said.

“I knew from past SA Opens that the SA Amateur winner always plays with the defending champion, but when I heard that Mr Stenson was coming back to defend his title, it was the ultimate cherry on top! He better watch out, because I’m feeling lucky! Just joking!

“Seriously, Mr Stenson has had an unbelievable season and he shown the world that you can always come back in this game. I know I can learn so much from him. It’s going to be an incredible experience to play with him, but I just hope I can get my ball on the tee at the first hole, let alone make the tee shot.”

Stenson, too, is looking forward to meeting his young playing partner.

“I am really looking forward to playing with Thriston at the SA Open,” Stenson said. “He did fantastic in winning the SA Amateur championship at 16 years old, and I am sure he is eager to try and make a mark at his national Open too!”

The South African Golf Association (SAGA) also selected Christiaan Bezuidenhout and NJ Arnoldi from Ekurhuleni, Zander Lombard from Gauteng North and Central Gauteng’s Louis Taylor to compete in this year’s event.

“As the custodians of the SA Open Championship, our SA Amateur champion automatically qualifies but we can nominate a further four more players to participate,” explained SAGA president, Andre Pieterse.

“We take great pride in our national open and in the players we select to represent us. This year our job was made very easy by the amazing depth of talent in the rankings and we based our selection on merit. “Christiaan is our reigning number one, while Zander, Louis and NJ are ranked second, fourth and fifth respectively. They are bound to do us proud.”

(Gerlou Roux, who ranks third, will be representing South Africa in Argentina over the same period with Callum Mowat (ranked sixth) at the Juan Carlos Tailhade and Argentine Amateur.)

The five amateurs – and any other amateur golfers who make the field through the qualifiers – will challenge for the Freddie Tait Cup, which has been awarded to the leading amateur in the final standings since 1929. Past winners of the coveted title include Major winners Bobby Locke, Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel.

Locke won the title twice as the winner of the SA Open in 1935 and 1937, followed by Ron Glennie in 1947, but Denis Hutchinson was the last amateur to win the SA Open in 1959.

“Looking at the list of past SA Open winners just blows my mind,” Lawrence said. “Almost anyone who has made it big in this game has won the SA Open and I can’t help feeling humbled that I will have a chance to follow in their footsteps. My best wishes to all the amateurs and thank you, Mr Stenson, for coming to defend your title. Wow, I’m counting the days.”

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