SA juniors geared for Italian challenge

Four of the country’s top junior golfers will use today’s practice round at the Golf Club Biella in Italy to become well acquainted with the par-73 championship layout ahead of this week’s seventh Italian International Under-16 Championship.

The junior quartet will be looking to make their mark in the individual 72-hole competition that tees off on Tuesday and the 36-hole Nations Trophy team event, played over the first two rounds of the championship.

South Africa’s top ranked junior Jovan Rebula from Southern Cape leads the charge alongside Ekurhuleni’s Kyle McClatchie and Keegan de Lange and Rosswell Sinclair, both from Gauteng North.

The 16-year-old George golfer leads the current U-17 and U-19 Orders of Merit after victories in the Nomads SA Boys U-17 and Nomads SA Boys North & South Championships, as well as a clutch of top finishes, including second in the Sanlam SA Amateur Championship stroke play qualifier.

But the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation member downplays his achievements.

“Look, the rankings only count to get you selected,” he said. “I worked really hard this season so I could make the team for Italy, but so did every other junior that qualified for the Italian International.

“Once we tee off, the rankings don’t mean a thing. We are all equal, we all start at the same place. It’s what you do in the tournament that counts.”

In preparation for the championship, Rebula wanted to get the inside scoop on the 6,497 meter course and consulted with some of the previous South African participants.

“Ian Snyman was in the SA team that finished third in the 2011 Nations Trophy,” Rebula said. “Ian said it’s a really tough course and unlike anything we play here at home. He said course management is critical.

“Tristen Strydom tied for second that year and he said the course winds through woods and has a lot of bunkers and water hazards. Both guys described the course is very tight and they told us that you have to plan your shots to perfection.

“I think we are all a little nervous, but really looking forward to the challenge.”

De Lange won a Nomads Inland event and finished second at a recent Nomads Coastal event at Fancourt and currently ranks fifth on the U-19 Order of Merit and fourth in the U-17 rankings. The 16-year-old Woodhill golfer said he hoped he lived up to his selection.

“It’s such an honour to be selected to represent South Africa,” De Lange said. “In the past, our players have always put in a good performance in Italy and we definitely hope to keep that tradition going, especially in the team championship.”

McLatchie finished second at the Nomads SA Boys U-19 Stroke Play and third at the Nomads SA Boys U-17 Championship. The 16-year-old KES scholar ranks seventh and fifth in the U-19 and U-17 Orders of Merit respectively.

“This tournament draws some of the top juniors in Europe, so it’s a huge opportunity for us,” said the Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate golfer. “It’s really great to go over and compete as a team, but also to have the support of your team mates while you are also competing for individual honours.”

Fifteen-year-old Ross Sinclair from Pretoria, the youngest member of the team, tied for third in the Dr Nam National Order of Merit. Top 10 finishes in the North and South Championship and the SA Boys U-19 Stroke Play also lifted him inside the top 10 on both Orders of Merit.

“I’m really excited about this trip, because any time you get to play against top golfers from Europe, it’s a chance to test yourself and to improve,” Sinclair said. “We will do our best to bring the trophies home, but just to be given this experience is a reward on its own.”

The team, accompanied by SAGA Junior, Senior and Development coordinator, Eden Thompson, arrived at the par-72-championship layout in the Valcarozza region on Sunday. “This is a great opportunity for the juniors to gain experience,” Thompson said. “Anytime our players get the chance to challenge on international level, it is an opportunity for them to increase their competitive experience.

“This tournament draws top competitors from nearly 20 countries and it will be a stern test for our juniors, but they have worked hard to deserve this opportunity to test themselves against the best in Europe.”

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