SA quartet hunt for success at Whispering Pines

Four of South Africa’s top amateur golfers will fly the South African flag at the 2011 Spirit International, which tees off at the renowned Whispering Pines Golf Course in Texas today.
Ruan de Smidt, Haydn Porteous, Kim Williams and Iliska Verwey will compete for South Africa’s first success in this prestigious biennial tournament, which is held every other year and alternates with the World Amateur Team Championship.
The 2011 Spirit International features 80 participants from 20 countries representing six continents. Country teams are comprised of national amateur champions and top ranked players. The format of play for the competition is Fourball Stroke Play. The men’s and women’s fourball score is combined for the International Team competition. There is also a separate men’s and women’s team competition.
South African Golf Association president Colin Burger said the competition will be fierce.
“Of the 80 players participating, at least 75 have a national championship on their resume,” he said.
“The competition is going to be incredibly tough, but we are confident we have selected the best possible four candidates for this year’s Spirit.
“All four competitors have enjoyed a remarkable season and have the team spirit, aggression and determination required for this type of tournament. We believe that this group will do us proud.”
De Smidt, second on the SAGA’s current national rankings, has enjoyed three runner-up finishes this season and 10 top-10 finishes, while third-ranked Porteous has had nine top-10s and won the Boland Open.
Williams and Verwey are ranked first and second on the Women’s Golf South Africa rankings and won the Sanlam Women’s SA Stroke Play and Match Play respectively.
The team already had their patience tested even before they could tee it up for a practice round.
Having arrived at Atlanta Airport on Sunday after a 17-hour flight from South Africa, it was another hour in passport control when Verwey was randomly selected with some other passengers for a full search and two more hours of waiting for their connecting flight to Houston..
“By that time we were all watching the back of our eyelids,” said Williams. “It took us a full 24 hours after leaving South Africa to book into our hotel.”
On Monday the team enjoyed a practice round at a nearby course and on Tuesday, all the teams moved into cabins at Camp Olympia where they will stay for the remainder of the week.
They also got their first look at Whispering Pines.
The 18-hole championship course has been ranked inside the Top 100 courses by Golf Magazine and Golfweek since 2006 and the 7 480-yard Jack Nicklaus design will prove a tough challenge.
Verwey and Williams said they found the course to play quite long.
“It is playing very, very long,” said Verwey. “Kim and I had to hit 150m plus in on most of the par fours.”
De Smidt and Porteous didn’t have a problem with length but said the greens could prove tricky. “The greens are super fast and very firm, so placement on the greens is going to be crucial when we face Ireland in Wednesday’s first round,” said De Smidt.

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