Top foreigners to chase SA Stroke Play crown

South Africa’s leading amateur Brandon Stone will spearhead the local challenge against a strong international line-up when this year’s South African Stroke Play Championship gets underway at Glendower Golf Club from 7-10 February.

Since the inaugural event was won by Dale Hayes in 1969, just a handful of visitors have been able to lift the title, including Yuan Ching Chi (1981), Wen-Sheng Li (1982) and C-S Hsieh (1986) of China and Ireland’s Ciaran McMonagle in 1982.

Not since Gary Wolstenholme from England beat Wesley Tucker by three shots at George Golf Club in 2002, has a foreigner been successful and a valiant effort from former Scottish Amateur champion David Law last year was derailed by a determined Jared Harvey, who claimed the title at the first play-off hole after both players tied on 274 at Mount Edgecombe.

But Stone and company will have their job cut out to keep the trophy on home soil this year.

Nearly 30 foreign entries were received this year from seven countries, including Austria, England, France, Italy, Namibia, Scotland and Zimbabwe and the visitors are eager to chase down one of the two prized titles on the South African amateur circuit.

Colin Burger, president of the South African Golf Association (SAGA), said the depth among the foreign entries this year underlines the growing international prestige of the SA Amateur Stroke Play Championship.

“Most of the players entered for this year’s tournament are among the leading amateurs in their own countries. And believe me, they are all ready, and able, to make history.

“We have five top French and six top Italian amateurs and Namibia’s top three in the field. The English side includes the English Amateur runner-up Jamie Clare and Toby Tree, who already made his mark by winning the Gauteng North Open Stroke Play at Pecanwood at the end of January.

“The Scottish entry includes seven players from their Elite National Squad, who has been here for two weeks. Paul Shields last year’s Sanlam SA Amateur Match Play runner-up already showed his mettle at Pecanwood, as well.”

But Burger is confident that the South African players will put up a spirited fight.

“Brandon is obviously a strong favourite, especially after winning the Freddie Tait Trophy as the leading amateur at the South African Open and his back-to-back victories at the Prince’s Grant Invitational and the KZN Stroke Play,” said Burger.

“He is our number one ranked player and will certainly be out to prove himself. But Haydn Porteous and CJ du Plessis, who are respectively second and third in the rankings, are just as capable.

“Haydn won the Nomads National Order of Merit event in January and posted top 10 finishes in all three events this season, while CJ finished in the top 10 at Prince’s Grant and Durban Country Club.

“Our challenge is further strengthened by the next seven players, including Shaun Smith, who marked his return to competitive golf after injury with two top 10s while Zander Lombard finished just two behind Tree at the Gauteng North Open Stroke Play.

“The top five are supported by Gert Myburgh, Drikus Bruyns, JP Strydom and Pedrie Oosthuizen, ranked between sixth and 10th, and there a lot of strong players behind them. I definitely think the foreigners will have a battle on their hands.”

At present the attention is certainly on Stone, whose performance on one of the biggest stages of South African amateur golf will be keenly watched. But the country’s number one ranked player downplayed the pressure, saying that he is will take it one round at a time.

“Any time you can play against some of top international amateurs, it lifts your game and gives you more experience,” the 18-year-old said.

“I do feel there is some pressure on me to win, especially since I’m leaving for the USA in August to take up a golf scholarship. But I’ll approach this tournament like I do all others; take the opportunities when they arise to put a decent score on the board.”

The SA Stroke Play Championship is contested over 72 holes. The field of 144 will be cut to 65 and ties after 36 holes.

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