Haydn Porteous’s early 66 at Country Club Johannesburg held up for the first round lead in the Sanlam SA Amateur Championship Qualifier, but England’s Toby Tree and George golfer Andrew Light were nipping at his heels at the end of the day.
The 18-year-old Gauteng standout has put himself in prime position to make a strong run for amateur golf’s most prestigious title with eight birdies at the 7,009m Rocklands course, but Porteous will carry a slender one shot lead into Monday’s final round.
On a day when gentle weather conditions should suggest otherwise, only 19 players in the 137-man field managed to break par.
Pretoria amateur Philip Kruse launched fourth and within striking distance with a four under 68, while Bryce Bibbly from Royal Durban, former pro Gerlou Roux from the Western Province, Scott Crichton from Scotland, and East London golfer Jade Buitendag all lurk at three under.
Polokwane’s Hennie du Plessis, Ekurhuleni’s NJ Arnoldi and Craig Lindsay-Smith tied for ninth on two under, while Ewan Scot and Jamie Savage from Scotland are in the eight-man bus at one under.
Former SA Amateur champion Ryan Dreyer and South African number two, Zander Lombard, carded a one-over-par 73s to tie for 36th alongside Richard Fulford, a former professional who owns the pro-shop at Country Club Johannesburg.
Fulford said straight hitters with hot putters will last the week.
“The Rocklands course is very long, very tight and the rough is absolutely brutal,” he explained.“It’s the kind of course where you have to take a game plan and stick to it. If you get cute, you are will be punished. The two players who can get to the green with no mistakes and ride a hot putter, will be contesting for the title on Friday.”
Having successfully defended his SA Stroke Play title nine days ago, Porteous is chasing the elusive “double”. Since the SA Stroke Play was added to the annual schedule in 1969, only Etienne Groenewald (1980), Ben Fouchee (1987), Neville Clarke (1988), Titch Moore (1996), Louis de Jager (2007) and Jacques Blaauw (2008) have managed to win both the Stroke Play and Sanlam SA Amateur in one season.
The Modderfontein amateur, who hopes to join this exceptional league of gentlemen this week, buckled down to work early and mostly stuck to a well-laid game plan.
Birdies at the first, third, fourth and ninth saw him to four-under at the turn, but a bad decision at the par-four 10th hole was a costly two-shot mistake.
“This course is brutal because you really pay for bad calls,” he said. “I took out driver and hit my tee shot right and into the deep stuff. I had a job to hack it out from there and get it on the green. I three-putted from 60 feet, but that double bogey was just bad course management.”
But coming home, Porteous reeled in another three birdies from the 12th with great approaches and set up his eighth birdie with a monstrous drive at the par-18th.
“I hit that tee shot really, really good,” he said. “I was having some issues with my swing for a couple of months until Llewellyn (van Leeuwen) sorted it out for me at the Ten Nations Cup. Since then it’s been constantly improving. And when you swing it well, your confidence grows.”
Top English golfer Tree was thrilled to finish within a shot of his travel and practice partner“Haydn and I spoke about it on Saturday,” he explained. “We really want to pull off a one-two finish, so we don’t have to play each other until the final. We are great mates, but we’re also very competitive and it’s always better when we can support each other than knowing one of us has to take the other out.”Unheralded Light said he had no real expectations at the start of the round.
“It’s a really tough course, so my plan was just to keep the ball in play and try to keep the scorecard clean,” the 21-year-old said. “I was never really in trouble, apart from the sixth and the eighth, where I found the rough. Most of time I hit the fairway and my irons and wedges worked well. I made three birdies on the trot from inside a foot, so I just need to keep that going.”
Only the top 64 players will advance to the match play stage of the championship, which tees off on Tuesday. The qualifiers will play 18 holes on Tuesday, followed by 18 holes in the morning and afternoon of Wednesday and Thursday respectively. The final will be decided over 36 holes on Friday.