Scots set their sights on Sanlam SA Amateur Championship

Scotland’s top amateurs will be seeking a special place in South African golf history when the Sanlam SA Amateur Championship tees off at Vaal de Grace Golf Estate this Sunday.

Among the 10 Scots entered are three members of the provisional 2011 Walker Cup squad, including Michael Stewart, the reigning Scottish Amateur champion and the country’s top ranked player, as well as , Tennant Cup winner Ross Kellett and , Lytham Trophy runner-up, Kris Nicol.

Other notables include David Law, the runner-up at the SA Amateur Stroke Play and James White, the reigning Sutherland Chalice champion.

Although the foreigners had a good showing at the SA Stroke Play, with three players finishing in the top 10, they will face a strong challenge from a new wave of minnows ready to take up the mantle of SA Amateur champion.

The country’s top ranked player, Brandon Stone, could be the man to watch.

The 17-year-old Gardener Ross player makes his debut in the country’s most prestigious amateur event. Already a winner this season at the Prince’s Grant Invitational, Stone came close to a second victory with a tie for fifth at the SA Stroke Play earlier this month.

“It’s the one title every South African amateur wants to win,” said Stone.

“I think it would be amazing to follow in the footsteps of Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman, who all won the Amateur and went on to win Majors. I would just like to the title at least once and get my name on the trophy next to theirs.”

Adding to the challenge will be other 2011 winners, including Jared Harvey, Jaco Mouton, Coenie Bester and Daniel Hammond.

Harvey clinched the SA Stroke Play in a play-off with Law, Mouton came from behind to win the Gauteng North Open and Bester tamed the South Coast winds to beat SAGA number two, Ruan de Smidt, by two shots for the KwaZulu-Natal Open title.

Harvey hopes to emulate contemporaries Jacques Blaauw and Louis de Jager, two of only six players to ever win the South African Stroke Play and Match Play titles in the same calendar year.

Meanwhile Hammond hopes to carry his recent good form at the Free State and Northern Cape Open to the winner’s podium at Vaal de Grace. The Wanderers-based player fired rounds of 67-70-68-68 at Bloemfontein Golf Club to beat Brendan de Lange by six shots.

“The SA Open is steeped in history,” said Hammond. “Some of the greatest players of this country have won it. It would be a great feeling to see your name on that trophy next to players like Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.”

Their toughest challenge, though, could come from 2009 champion Ryan Dreyer.

The former professional beat Adrian Ford for the title in 2009, made it to the quarter-finals last year, where he was beaten by Allan Versfeld who lost to Laurie Canter of England in the final.

Dreyer relishes the chance to become the first two-time winner since Neville Clarke won in 1985 and 1988.

“The SA Amateur is something we all grow up with,” said Dreyer. “It is the ultimate tournament for any South African amateur to win. I will always cherish my first win and hopefully I will have a shot at taking it again this year.”

The 36-hole Stroke Play Qualifier tees off on Sunday, 27 February and the 143-man field will have to navigate their way around the 6,711 meter layout, with 14 holes in the North West Province and four in the Free State.

The Nick Price Group design on the banks of the Vaalriver only opened in 2008, but has confirmed its distinction as a championship venue, as a regular stop on the Sunshine Tour.

A field of 64 players will contest the honour of winning the country’s most prestigious amateur title, which also comes with a spot in this year’s South African Open Championship.

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