JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (March 2, 2013) -- At 16 years, two months and 26 days, Mpumalanga teenager Thriston Lawrence became the youngest champion of the Sanlam South African Open Championship in the 106 year history of the event at Country Club Johannesburg on Friday.
Playing with the steadfast persistence of a man many years his senior, the Nelspruit golfer fought his way into the records books with an emphatic 9&8 victory over Southern Cape’s Andrew Light.
Lawrence not only bettered the previous youngest player record set by Desvonde Botes in 1991 by just over two months, but his winning margin was the biggest since Ettienne Groenewald lifted the trophy at Royal Johannesburg in 1980 with the same result.
Demonstrating maturity well beyond his years, Lawrence stuck to a well-laid game plan of keeping the ball in play and relied on a red-hot short game to win the 36-hole final in his SA Amateur debut.
The teenager took charge at the par-four 11th after Light bogeyed the hole and never took his foot off the gas again.
After the first 18 holes, Lawrence was five up and extended his lead to nine after 27 holes. At his second visit to the par-four 10th, Lawrence’s approach pitched just off the front edge of the green.
He chipped it to just inside a foot, leaving Light under pressure to hole out from the edge of the green to extend the match.
But the 23-year-old George golfer’s putt came up short and Lawrence could finally celebrate a larger-than-life performance.
The young golfer had a hard time containing his smile as he lifted the prestigious silverware.
“You know, I didn’t have any expectations when I arrived here at the start of the week,” the excited champion gushed. “I just wanted to gain experience. If I did well, it would have been a bonus.
“I knew what I had to do to give myself a chance and I’m really proud of how I was able to stay calm and keep my focus going. I didn’t get ahead of myself. The first time I thought I could actually win this was when I got to the seventh and I was eight ahead.”
Lawrence said it was still all too much to take in.
“Knowing that my name will go into the history books with Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen...wow, that’s incredible,” he said. “I can’t get my head around it.”
On paper, 10th ranked Light was the favourite to win, but the Southern Cape golfer put himself on the back foot from the word go. A lost ball at the second hole handed Lawrence the early advantage and, although Light birdied the third to square the match, the Mpumalanga golfer edged ahead again when Light had to concede the fifth hole after finding the drink with his tee shot.
That missed opportunity also set the tone for day.
While Lawrence made six birdies, offset by three bogeys, Light made three birdies, but dropped 10 shots and had to concede two holes.
“I know I played well enough to win, but I have to say that Andrew that the match was a lot closer than it looks,” Lawrence said. “Andrew had some bad luck out there with plugged lies in bunkers and stuff like that. I think he was great opponent.”Lawrence said that his swing wasn’t up to standard, but that his short game was as sharp as ever.
“I hit a lot of short irons and wedges inside two meters and I made a lot of putts to save par,” he said. “I think I only had one putt over 30-feet and I lagged that one inside a foot for par. That’s key in match play; you have to keep it in play and keep the pressure on your opponent.”
The young golfer rose to prominence when he first represented Mpumalanga at the SA Junior Inter-Provincial at the age of 13 and won the SA Boys U-14 Stroke Play, but he warranted serious attention when he claimed the SA Boys U-19 Match Play Championship at Katberg last year.
Lawrence was only 15 when he made the Mpumalanga team for last year’s South African Inter-Provincial, where he underlined his growing stature as the team’s second most valued player. After winning a Junior Order of Merit in January, the young gun wet his feet on the senior circuit with a tie for 10th in his South African Stroke Play debut.
Unprecedented achievements could become the order of the day for Lawrence, but this tremendous feat will also raise the bar for the emerging amateur stars of tomorrow.