Smith hunts experience at SA Open

A blend of seven past champions, five-time winner Ernie Els, a slew of top European challengers and prime real estate at Glendower Golf Club will serve up an intoxicating cocktail at the 104th South African Golf Championship, which tees off on Thursday.

It’s little wonder that five of the country’s top amateurs are champing at the bit to get going, but while most players will want to make the most of this stage to shine, reigning SA Stroke Play champion Jason Smith is quite happy to fly under the radar this week.

“I know the SA Open is the Holy Grail for most South African amateurs and everyone wants to win the Freddie Tait Cup, but for me this week is all about how much experience I can gain,” Smith explained.

As the custodian of the world’s second oldest Open, the South African Golf Association (SAGA) annually name five top ranked amateurs to compete in the championship.

Smith made the grade alongside Tristen Strydom, Gerlou Roux, Hendrikus Stoop and Matthew Spacey.

“This week represents the chance of the lifetime to watch South Africa’s top golfers and the European players in action,” Smith said.

“It’s an opportunity to learn as much as possible by just watching how the pros execute their shots and their course management.”

The Irene golfer learned the value of international competition during the 2014 season.

He claimed a breakthrough victory when he held off 2014 British Amateur champion Bradley Neil from Scotland, 2013 North of Ireland Stroke Play champion Dermot McElroy and local favourite Stefan Cronje to win the South African Stroke Play Championship in February and made his debut in the Africa Zone VI Golf Tournament three months later, where he helped chase down the country’s 19th consecutive victory in the championship since 1995.

In June, he was a member of a six-man SAGA team that competed in the St Andrews Links Trophy, the British Amateur Championship and in a two-day Test against a Scottish Golf Union side.

In September, Smith received a late call-up to join Zander Lombard and Gerlou Roux in the Eisenhower Trophy team for the World Amateur Team Championships in Japan.

A month later, he beat Central Gauteng’s Spacey for the Ekurhuleni Open Stroke Play title and finished second in the MCB Indian Ocean Amateur Golf Open in Mauritius later in October.

In early November, he combined with NJ Arnoldi for a top 10 finiish in the Juan Carlos Tailhade Cup and reached the top 16 in the Argentine Amateur Championship.

“All those experiences really made me understand how valuable it is to your overall improvement to step outside your comfort zone,” he said.

In the run-up to the South African Open, the TuksSport Golf Academy member played five practice rounds at Glendower and even called on former champion Gavan Levenson, whose golf academy is based at the famed Ekurhuleni course.

“I don’t want to waste this opportunity,” Smith said. “I really want to make the most of my start and that means surviving the 36-hole cut on Friday.

“Gavan suggested that I play the course from different tee boxes to get the feel for the holes. I was surprised how much the holes change when you play off different tees.

“One thing is for certain – shot-making and accuracy will be the order of the day.”

Tight fairways and lightning fast greens promises a demanding week for this year’s competitors, and Smith believes the rough will sort the wheat from the chaff.

“The rough is quite penal, especially around the par fives,” he said.

“It’s a risk-and-reward layout, but you simply have to keep it in play or the numbers will add up quickly. It’s probably inevitable that you will hit it in the rough at least once in the tournament, but if you’ve only done it once, you’ve done well.”

Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of the South African Golf Association.

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