MMABATHO, South Africa (March 3, 2017) -- Liam Johnston from Scotland made it a Scottish double at the African Amateur Stroke Play Championship when he lifted the trophy after an epic tussle with compatriot Connor Syme and South Africa’s Christo Lamprecht at Leopard Creek Golf Estate on Friday.
Just a day after Scotland defended their Team Competition title, the 24-year-old from Dumphries and County closed with a one-under-par 71 to celebrate a one stroke victory on eight under 280.
Syme took second with a final round 72 and 17-year-old Jamie Stewart made it a one-two-three result for Scotland when he also turned in a 71 for a total of 282.
Johnston hailed the victory as the biggest and most memorable achievement of his career.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” he said. “I feel like I finally got the money off my back. I won a lot of team events when I was at the University of Tennessee, but I never won an individual title. I can’t begin to describe how amazing it feels to land this victory.
“I hope this pays back all the support my family and my coach James Erskine have given me and the trust Scottish Golf, Aberdeen Asset Management, Dunhill and Mr Rupert placed in me to bring me out with the National Squad to South Africa this year.”
Lamprecht’s bid for a wire-to-wire victory took a heavy knock on the back nine and the 16-year-old Sanlam SA Amateur champion had to settle for fourth on five under after a 76. Craig Howie from Scotland carded a 71 to finish in fifth on 283, a shot ahead of Luca Filippi from Western Province, who closed with a 73.
Lamprecht began the day at nine under with a two shot lead over Johnston and Syme.
He moved to 10 under with a birdie at the second, but Johnston fired successive birdies out of the blocks to close the gap.
“It was a real boost to get off to that birdie-birdie start,” Johnston said. “Christo had played some incredibly good golf to hold the lead for three rounds. I made the fast start to gain some ground on him, but unfortunately I made a bad decision off the tee at six.
“I went with a six-iron and found the fairway bunker and made a bogey from there. I didn’t have any real birdie chances over the next four holes, but I made good par saves to keep it going.”
Lamprecht had bogeys either side of a birdie at six, but the Southern Cape golfer kept the reigns and turned nine under. His lead stretched to three shots when Johnston triple-bogeyed 11.
“I made a very decent putt from 15 feet across the slope for a birdie at 14,” Johnston said. “I had the honour at that monster 15th hole, got a great drive down the fairway, hit my second short of the green and made a solid up-and-down for birdie.”
Syme, meanwhile, dropped two shots at the seventh and bogeyed the eighth to slip to four under, but birdies at 11, 13 and 15 brought the world number 16 back into the tussle.
Lamprecht bounced back after his troubles with a birdie at 15 to join Syme at seven under.
“I felt the pressure with a one shot lead and the toughest three holes to come,” said Johnston. “My only thought was that I needed to keep the ball in play to make sure of my pars. If a birdie chance presented itself, I’d do my best to make it, but pars are king at the last three holes.
“The 16th was playing 210 yards into the wind to a sucker pin on the right, but I made a five footer for par to keep my lead alive. The 17th has a tight tee shot, so I went with my punchy drive and squeezed a great one down the fairway that set up another solid par. At the last hole, I hit six-iron off the tee and laid up with a seven-iron to leave myself 131 yards into the green.”
The pin was tucked back right on the island green on the final day and Johnston fired a wedge to the centre of the green.
“I had a 12-footer for birdie and Connor was about a foot inside my putt,” he said. “Mine just nicked the hole, but Connor’s also just missed at the top of the hole. It felt a bit weird watching him take that putt. We’ve known each other for 10 years and we are team-mates on the National Squad. There was a part of me rooting for him to make it and another part hoping he’d miss, so I could land the win.”
Lamprecht closed with another double bogey after he hit his approach into the water surrounding the 18th green.