subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
Yurav Premlall, left, and Daniel van Tonder will tee off at the SA Open on Thursday. Picture: GOLFRSA
Yurav Premlall, left, and Daniel van Tonder will tee off at the SA Open on Thursday. Picture: GOLFRSA

If you are tuning in to the SA Open Championship from Thursday, keep an eye out for the six amateurs that will be teeing it up at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate.

While none of them is likely to win, for these young men playing their national open alongside the cream of the DP World (formerly the European Tour) and Sunshine Tours is a huge step on their paths to becoming professional golfers.

It is a means to measure themselves against some of the world’s top professionals — and to learn that while they may be the country’s best amateurs there is still some distance to go before they are the finished article, if such a notion exists in a sport that does not do perfect.

All six amateurs are members of the GolfRSA national squad. Five of them received an invitation to compete — the reward for a year of excellence. The sixth amateur, and the youngest competitor in the SA Open field this year, Janko van der Merwe, had to do it the hard way and beat more than 300 hopefuls across three qualifying tournaments to secure his spot in the 156-strong starting line-up.

Under the guidance of CEO Grant Hepburn, his strong team at GolfRSA and a select group of industry professionals, including sports psychologist Theo Bezuidenhout, fitness and nutrition expert Gavin Groves, and the players’ own swing coaches, these young men have been preparing for life in the paid ranks.

Every one of the six is a special talent.

Kyle de Beer is the reigning SA amateur champion, while Aldrich Potgieter is the British amateur champ. Yurav Premlall, the youngest amateur at 15 years and five months to have qualified for and made the cut in the history of the National Open, came full circle when he won the Freddie Tait Cup as the leading amateur in last year’s SA Open.

International debut

Jono Broomhead, the 2022 SA strokeplay champion, became only the second South African to win a qualifier for the Amateur Championship. Christiaan Maas, the 2021 SA amateur champion, is the reigning Brabazon Trophy holder.

Janko van der Merwe, who shot 68 to qualify at ERPM Golf Club, is only 16 years old. The Magalies Park youngster is not only the reigning Nomads SA boys’ U-17 champion and SA’s No 1-ranked U-17 player, but he showed nerves of steel to finish in the top 10 in his international debut in the Italian U-16 Open a few months ago.

They will all be gunning for the Freddie Tait Cup, which has been awarded to the leading amateur in the SA Open since 1929 and features an elite list of past winners including Bobby Locke, Denis Hutchinson, Dale Hayes, Tony Johnstone, Ernie Els, Hennie Otto, Trevor Immelman, Brandon Grace and Brandon Stone — golfers who etched their names on the Freddie Tait Cup and went on to lift the ultimate trophy.

Given the depth of the field and the length of the course — the world’s third longest — it would be a huge ask for one of these fine amateurs to win the SA Open, but it’s not unthinkable. Jayden Schaper threatened it in January 2020 before settling for a tie for sixth at Randpark, Jean Hugo came close at Stellenbosch Golf Club in 1999 and Ernie Els finished just four shots off the leader in the 1989 SA Open at Glendower Golf Club.

Yet one needs to go all the way back to 1959 to find the last amateur to lift the SA Open title. That honour belongs to the wonderful Hutchinson, who triumphed at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club. I would be delighted if it happened again in my lifetime, but I’ll be just as happy in the knowledge that Hutchie holds that record in perpetuity.

So, while the rest of the field this week challenge for their share of R25m prize pot, the amateur six-pack will be playing for battleground experience and pride. And the chance to stand next to the champion on Sunday afternoon, holding the Freddie Tait Cup aloft.

Much is made of the fact that the SA Open is the second-oldest championship in golf. There is much history and tradition in the event and throughout history, the best SA players have made a point of returning to our shores to support it.

The old-school golfers seemingly obeyed the two golden rules of golf: defend your title and always play in your national open. Gary Player, who spent more time overseas than in SA, still managed to win the SA Open 13 times. Locke got his name on the trophy nine times and Sid Brews six. Els is a five-time champion, and Harold Henning, Retief Goosen, Immelman and Tim Clark are two-time winners. 

Yet there was a spell a few years ago when it was tough work to convince our best players to come home and compete in their national open. Some preferred to go hunting, others picked up surprise injuries and I’m sure there were a few who simply didn’t fancy the long flight from their homes in the US or Europe.

From the looks of the 2022 field, it appears the tide may be turning again, even if it is aided by the fact that some of the LIV players need somewhere to gain some world ranking points.

Charl Schwartzel is back as a LIV Tour winner and hoping to claim the title that got away from him in 2015, as is Branden Grace, winner of the SA Open in January 2020, while PGA Tour players Dylan Frittelli, MJ Daffue and Erik van Rooyen have made the long trip south in search of a first national open title.

George Coetzee, Dean Burmester, Brandon Stone and Hennie du Plessis are among many big game players in the field that also includes a good crop of overseas players who are looking to get their season off to a flying start.

Not so secretly, I’m hoping that they don’t succeed because nothing beats a SA winner of the SA Open.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.