- South African G.A. photo
JOHANNESBURG: History beckons at Randpark Golf Club this weekend for the final two rounds of the R17,5-million South African Open, hosted by the City of Joburg, at Randpark Golf Club.
Actually – in terms of the way golf has developed over the decades – one could say that "ancient history" is beckoning.
It has been 61 long years since an amateur won the world’s second oldest title, and that honour belonged to Denis Hutchinson way back in 1959.
Perhaps amateurs aren’t meant to win professional tournaments these days, let alone national opens competing against the some of the world’s best professionals. It just doesn’t happen.
But GolfRSA whiz kid Jayden Schaper is tantalizingly close.
The 18-year-old Ebotse amateur is on 10-under-par 132 in this year’s championship following a superb 65 on the par-71 Bushwillow course on Thursday and an equally fine 67 on Friday on the Firethorn, also a par-71.
Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen tops a jam-packed leaderboard on 11-under 131 following a 66 on Firethorn and he leads by one shot from five players.
“I’m really happy to be on top of the leaderboard but, after birdies at three of the first six holes, I really had to grind out the pars,” Pukkanen said. “Today was much tougher than the opening round, because we had a lot of wind out there. I’ve just come off 10 weeks of practice in America and it was such a good move to do that as I really think I found my game.”
For Schaper to be in the chasing pack alongside England’s Sam Horsfield (68) and fellow South Africans Jaco Ahlers (66), Trevor Fisher Junior (67) and Thriston Lawrence (65), is a massive story in golfing terms.
When asked if he will be nervous going into the final two rounds, Schaper replied: “The way I see it, it’s the same golf course. It’s the same 14 clubs. I’ll treat it as any amateur event I’ve played in. There will be a bit of nerves, but I kind of enjoy that. I’m just looking forward to the weekend.
Yes, the field is a stronger one than I’m used to, but I’m not worried about the other players, I’m just out to play my own game.
Schaper turned one-over after following a birdie on the sixth with successive drops, but he fought his way past playing partner and defending champion Louis Oosthuizen with five birdies down the inward loop.
”I trusted my guts out there today and finished well,” said Schaper, who finished two shots better than the 2020 Open champion.
“It would be pretty special to match what Mr Hutchinson did. I’m just going to take it one shot at a time. If the opportunity comes, I’ll try my best to take it,” added reigning SA Stroke Play champion, who won the Junior Players Championship in America, considered the most prestigious junior tournament in the world.
Oosthuizen described Schaper’s golf over the first two days as “brilliant” while saying his own game Friday was very frustrating. “I hit the ball from tee to green as well as I can but the putts just wouldn’t drop,” said the tournament host.
Oosthuizen is on eight-under 134 and one of no less than 22 players within three shots of the Finn.
Pulkkanen’s lead so it’s definitely game on for Saturday and Sunday and the final 36 holes.
Schaper looks a shoe-in to collect the Freddie Tait Cup as the leading amateur, but don’t write off his GolfRSA National Squad team-mates who also made the 36-hole cut.
South Africa’s leading junior Casey Jarvis and former SA Amateur champion Christo Lamprecht both finished on four-under-par 138, and both showed glimpses of great form on the second day. Lamprecht got it to seven-under through 14 holes on Firethorn before he gave three shots back, while Jarvis fought back from four-over with an eagle and three birdies on the inward nine on Bushwillow to make the weekend.
Meanwhile Daniel Greene is well-placed on 9-under with American Johanness Veerman, who was the first round leader and England duo Harry Hall and Jack Senior.
Green put down his good golf here to getting back to basics after a heart-to-heart chat with his coach Rae Hast, the former South African amateur and professional champion, who is also his aunt.
“My confidence has been a bit low so earlier this week I had a talk with her over the phone and she gave me some swing thoughts. So before my first round on Thursday I started to hit the ball well on the range, and I went on to shoot 67 on Firethorn,” said the 34-year-old. “Rae has been teaching me golf since I was a little guy, maybe seven years old, chipping in the garden in Nottingham Road, and I owe a lot to her.”
With his new-found confidence after a pep talk with his aunt, can Green win this weekend?
“Look, we all want to win but there’s still a long way to go – a lot of golf to be played. There also the extra pressure of this being our national open but I’ll just put that out of mind and see what happens.”
With the quality trio of Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and George Coetzee lurking just three off the pace in a big group of players on eight under, the scene is set for what is certain to be a thrilling weekend of golf.
Sunday could just see “ancient history” being made if Schaper wins and one man who would be only too glad to see his record finally fall would be that now old campaigner-turned voice of golf Denis Hutchinson. And wouldn’t it be special if it happened on the day that “Hutchie” – as we all know him and love him – does his final golf broadcast at Randpark.