30 November 2023 – Altin van der Merwe and Dan Bennett laid down early markers for the prestigious Freddie Tait Cup in the Investec South African Open Championship at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate on Thursday.
Van der Merwe, who ranks first on the GolfRSA Open Amateur Rankings, and Bennett, the country’s top junior, both opened with level-par rounds of 72 to finish seven strokes behind first round pacesetter Joakim Lagergren from Sweden.
Last year’s leading amateur, Christiaan Maas, was next best on one-over.
Reigning Amateur champion Christo Lamprecht was two-over with two to play, but back-to-back bogeys for a 76 saw the World No 1 join qualifier Keagan Crosbie on four-over.
Fellow GolfRSA National Squad members Ivan Verster and Jordan Burnand closed out the amateur leaderboard with respective rounds of 78 and 80.
Van der Merwe and Bennett both had the benefit of an early start, and despite feeling the pressure in their debut in the DP World Tour and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned showpiece, the pair birdied their opening holes.
“I felt pretty comfortable leading up the first tee shot, but standing over the ball I could feel some nerves,” Bennett said. “I hit my drive down the fairway and got up-and-down for birdie, so that was a great start. I struggled on the greens and kind of lost my way in the middle of the round, but I had a great finish. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be in this position. Happy with the start, but still a lot of work to do.”
The Silver Lakes golfer bogeyed the second, ninth and 13th holes and dropped another shot after a birdie on the par-five 13th, but a birdie-birdie finish get him back to level for the day.
“It was a great finish. I was between clubs on the 17th and thankfully my caddie Sam told me to stick with the original club, and I hit an 8-iron pretty close. Up 18, I knew I could go for the green in two. I hit a good drive, hit it on the green and two-putted,” Bennett said.
His record-setting 21-stroke victory in the Nomads SA Boys U-19 Stroke Play Championship at Pecanwood in March demonstrated Bennett’s skill and ability under pressure, but the 18-year-old needs the flat-stick to the party if he wants to etch his name on amateur golf’s most prestigious cup.
“The course obviously played quite long; you had to hit a lot of long irons and I left myself with too many long putts,” he said. “I worked on the putting green after the round, and hopefully they drop tomorrow.”
A month ago, Van der Merwe – who had a runner-up finish in the Scottish Men’s Open, a 10th-place finish in the Brabazon Trophy and a tie for 12th in the St Andrews Links Trophy in June – helped South Africa to a seventh-place finish in his Eisenhower Trophy debut, the country’s best finish since 1982.
The 27-year-old, a five-time provincial winner this season, mixed two birdies with a pair of bogeys to tie for 61st with Bennett.
“It’s a long golf course, very demanding off the tee and there is a lot of bushes; you have to hit the ball straight,” said the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation member.
“I wanted to be solid off the tee and I did that pretty well. I’m not too short, so I used that to my advantage, and I kept the driver and 3-wood straight. The birdies on the first and last holes was two good wedges and two good putts. There were some holes in between that I played for par, because if you take them on, they can bite you. I made a couple of good par putts, which was encouraging. I played conservatively on the first day, but tomorrow I will take it on a bit.”
72 Altin van der Merwe; Dan Bennett
73 Christiaan Maas
76 Keagan Crosbie; Christo Lamprecht
78 Ivan Verster
80 Jordan Burnand