Playoff glory for Fichardt in Eye of Africa PGA Championship

19th January 2020

Playoff glory for Fichardt in Eye of Africa PGA Championship

Darren Fichardt added his name to the rich history of South African golf when he won the prestigious Eye of Africa PGA Championship on Sunday, and on a day when the Sunshine Tour itself made history with its coverage of the country’s second-oldest professional golf tournament.

Fichardt beat Chile’s Matias Calderon with a birdie on the third playoff hole after both finished regulation play tied for the lead on 20 under par at the Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate.

“I have always wanted to win the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, and the way I won it was very special. To win in a playoff is always awesome, and then hitting a driver and five iron and making a good putt for birdie was very satisfying,” said Fichardt.

Fichardt now owns a place on a trophy that includes some of the biggest names in South African golf. And the Sunshine Tour made its own bit of history as it live-streamed the final round for the first time, with even Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits declaring on social media he was watching the final round on his laptop while in the FNB Stadium watching the rugby action at Vodacom Super Hero Sunday.

Fichardt went into the final round tied for the lead with Jacques Kruyswijk on 16 under, and Calderon four shots adrift of them.

But Calderon came surging through the field with a 64, and Fichardt’s own 68 saw the title decided between these two. Kruyswijk took third place on 19 under par with a 69.

The victory was a timely boost for Fichardt, who admits the tribulations of having to return to the European Tour Qualifying School last year after losing his card took it out of him.

“I had a tough year last year and decided not to touch a club over December. I came out at the South African Open and was a bit rusty, and missed the cut by one. I was thinking I hope it’s not going to be one of those years again. So to win the week after is awesome.

“It’s fantastic playing at home and having that support. It can get very lonely on tour and it’s great to hear people calling your name and supporting you.”

Kruyswijk, Fichardt have their eyes set on Eye of Africa PGA Championship title

18th January 2020

Kruyswijk, Fichardt have their eyes set on Eye of Africa PGA Championship title

Jacques Kruyswijk is ready to take the battle-hardened lessons he learned during a tough year on the European Tour last year and make them count as he heads into Sunday’s final round of the Eye of Africa PGA Championship tied for the lead.

Kruyswijk signed for a 64 at the Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate on Saturday to top the leaderboard alongside Darren Fichardt on 16 under par. The experienced Fichardt posted a third round of 65.

They are both one stroke clear of Thriston Lawrence who signed for a 69 on Saturday. And further back, the leaderboard is still very tight with Daniel van Tonder on 14 under, and then two former champions in 2018 winner Matias Calderon and defending champion Louis de Jager both in a group on 12 under par. Jaco Ahlers is also at 12 under after a third-round 64.

But Kruyswijk believes he has the mental toughness to weather any challenge that comes his way, and it’s based upon a tough 2019 on the European Tour where he lost his card but gained a world of experience.

“Playing on the European Tour has taught me a lot. You play in front of a lot of people and on tough courses – it’s a lot of pressure and I feel like I’ve matured a lot. I went through a difficult time last year but mentally I feel it’s made me stronger,” he said.

“This 64 felt like my old self. I had a lot of fun and it’s been a while since I’ve felt like that. It just went my way. I felt really comfortable out there. My three-wood was working so well that I was hitting it past my driver,” he said of a round that started with two birdies and then finished with four birdies in his final six holes.

“It was nice to finish strong and I’m excited for the final round. My caddie and I came up with a strategy at the beginning of the week where we said we’re going to take it three holes at a time and try and be under par for three holes. It’s worked well.”

And he’s doing his best not to put any unnecessary pressure on himself for the final day of South Africa’s second-oldest professional golf tournament, and the chance to add his name to an illustrious list of past champions.

“You can only do your best and prepare the same way you always do. You never know what’s coming in this game.”

Fichardt will be aiming to do the same based on advice he was given by Mark McNulty early in his career.

“When I just turned pro, Mark McNulty gave me some good advice and he said just stick to your game plan. Don’t deviate from that just because it’s a final round. I’m just going to do that,” he said of a round where he also finished strong with three birdies in his final four holes.

“I started off a bit shaky and drove it in the bush on the first hole, but managed to make par. But I got it going nicely and then had a good finish. I’m in a good position for the weekend. I’m excited. It will be a good fight with Jacques for the title, but I’m excited.”

Lawrence leads into weekend of Eye of Africa PGA Championship

17th January 2020

Lawrence leads into weekend of Eye of Africa PGA Championship

Thriston Lawrence heads into the weekend of the Eye of Africa PGA Championship with a two-stroke lead and full of confidence that a victory on the main summer schedule of the Sunshine Tour is within his reach.

Lawrence signed for his second consecutive 66 on the Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate course on Friday to top the leaderboard on 12 under par. He is two strokes clear of Estiaan Conradie, Bryce Easton and Hennie O’Kennedy, who signed for rounds of 65, 66 and 66 respectively.

Lawrence made his Sunshine Tour breakthrough on the winter schedule of the tour last year when he won the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Stellenbosch Golf Club. But a win in the summer still eludes him, although he finished fourth in last year’s Eye of Africa PGA Championship and then again came close when he finished runner-up in the Tour Championship the same year.

“My all-round game has been good over the past two days. I hit 17 greens in the second round. The first green I missed was on the last hole and it was a bit of a sloppy finish with that bogey. But I’m very happy and playing with a lot of confidence,” said Lawrence, who came close to a hole-in-one on the par-three fifth hole.

“I hit a wedge to about a foot there. It was nice to get that momentum again with a birdie after the bogey on my 11th hole.”

Currently lying in seventh place on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, Lawrence is not planning to change a thing from the recipe that has worked for him all season.

“I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’m just going to stick to my game plan and take it from there. You never know with this game. You don’t need to be too technical and think too much about it – just do what you do and give it your best.”

As one of Lawrence’s nearest challengers, Conradie has also given himself a great opportunity to break through this summer.

“I just kept it in play and kept my card bogey-free,” said Conradie, who finished strong with two birdies on holes 17 and 18.”

And Easton was just as solid off the tee on a golf course that clearly rewards accuracy.

“I’m driving it great and I didn’t miss a fairway in the second round, which on this golf course sets up opportunities. I’m definitely pleased with the way I’ve been hitting it off the tee. I could’ve made a few more birdies out there, but 10 under at the halfway mark is nothing to complain about,” he said.

Van Rooyen’s journey from the Sunshine Tour to Augusta National 1

Van Rooyen’s journey from the Sunshine Tour to Augusta National

In 2017, Erik van Rooyen won the Eye of Africa PGA Championship for the first victory of his professional career. Last week he opened his invitation to participate in this year’s Masters tournament as a world top 50 player. His is a journey that embodies the Sunshine Tour’s slogan of #Gr8nessBeginsHere.

Van Rooyen’s breakthrough victory in South Africa’s second-oldest professional tournament, which is being played this week at the Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate, did indeed launch his career as he climbed the world rankings over the next few years.

By the end of 2017, he’d secured his place on the European Tour and also finished second in the Joburg Open to book his spot in his first Major – the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie where Van Rooyen finished an impressive tied 17th.

Van Rooyen’s 2018 European Tour year was a memorable one as he played his way to four top-10 finishes, thereby earning himself the Graduate of the Year award. He also qualified to play in the Nedbank Golf Challenge that year as well as the DP World Tour Championship.

And then in 2019, he had two runners-up finishes before finally breaking through with a maiden European Tour title in the Scandinavian Invitation. He ended the year ranked within the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking, earning him a debut appearance at the Masters and a drive down Magnolia Lane this April.

“The Eye of Africa PGA Championship was a great breakthrough for me. I’d been knocking on the door in South Africa a few times in some Vodacom Origins of Golf events, so to get that win against a good field was big for me,” says Van Rooyen.

“The dream of playing on the European Tour and against the best in the world was what kept driving me.”

That was always the dream, ever since he and his father sat down at a junior tournament at Fish River when Van Rooyen was 14 and agreed upon a professional career in golf.

And his journey to greatness is an ongoing one, as it will be for those looking to make a similar breakthrough in this week’s Eye of Africa PGA Championship.

“I feel like there are a lot of guys on the Sunshine Tour that are good enough to play on the European Tour or the PGA Tour but never get there. I want to keep getting better every year because then you will get there eventually.”

Fichardt leads but Mavundla making moves in Eye of Africa PGA Championship 1

Fichardt leads but Mavundla making moves in Eye of Africa PGA Championship

Darren Fichardt opened with a seven-under-par 65 to lead the first round of the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, but for the second week in succession on the Sunshine Tour, a member of the Tour’s Gary Player Class is pushing for a victory just one shot behind him.

Thanda Mavundla signed for a six-under-par 66 at the Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate on Thursday to place him in a group of players just one shot behind Fichardt.

Last week, another Gary Player Class member in Toto Thimba Jnr. came through the first round of the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg just two shots off the lead, but was unable to maintain his challenge.

The Gary Player Class is the Sunshine Tour’s squad of players who have been identified for assistance with their professional careers.

Mavundla’s achievement was made even more special considering he wasn’t even going to play this week.

“I stay in Durban so I wasn’t going to play this week because I don’t have a sponsor and it was going to cost a lot. Then a good friend of mine said he would assist me,” said Mavundla.

“I’ve been working hard on my game and it felt good to shoot a low round like this. I didn’t miss any fairways which is key on this golf course. Your short game also needs to be sharp around here.”

Fichardt was delighted with his opening 65 to lead South African golf’s second oldest professional tournament, after the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg. And he’s hoping for better fortunes in this event than what he’s enjoyed in the SA Open.

“It was disappointing to miss the cut in the SA Open last week. That’s the third year in a row that I’ve missed the cut in that event, so to come out here and shoot seven under and be up there again was nice,” he said.

“I shot five under in the pro-am earlier this week so my game is pretty solid. I felt I could’ve hit a few iron shots closer, but my game is solid, which it has been for some time now. It’s just a case of getting the job done.”

Rookie professional Garrick Higgo and another rising star in Thriston Lawrence are also amongst the chasing pack just one shot behind Fichardt.

Trevor Fisher Jnr., who lost in a playoff for this title with Louis de Jager last year, made another strong start with an opening round of five under 67.

De Jager hunting his own place in SA golf history

16th January 2020

De Jager hunting his own place in SA golf history

By Michael Vlismas

Louis de Jager returns to this week’s Eye of Africa PGA Championship hoping to become the 10th player in the history of South Africa’s second-oldest professional golf tournament to successfully defend his title.

De Jager won last year’s Eye of Africa PGA Championship in a playoff with Trevor Fisher Jnr. It was his fifth victory on the Sunshine Tour, but more significantly it was his first title won over four rounds.

“It was great to win because of the history of this tournament and to add my name to those already on the trophy. But it was just as big for me to win a tournament over four rounds. Before this victory, I’d won four tournaments on the winter leg of the Sunshine Tour, and all of them were over three rounds. It was my goal to win a four-round tournament and I was able to do it in this championship. It was great to achieve that,” De Jager said on the eve of Thursday’s first round of this Sunshine Tour event.

Having his name engraved on a trophy that was first played for in 1923 and which has been won by the greats of South African golf was prestigious enough. But this week De Jager can join an even more exclusive group including Jock Brews, Charles McIlvenny, Sid Brews, Bobby Locke, Jock Verwey, Harold Henning, Tienie Britz, Dales Hayes and Louis Oosthuizen who have won the Eye of Africa PGA Championship back-to-back.

In fact, should he do that this week, De Jager will have achieved something in this championship that not even Gary Player or Ernie Els have achieved.

“It’s definitely one of my goals to defend a title. It’s the fifth time I’ll be trying to achieve this. It’s not more pressure. It’s more a case of you’ve done well here before so you want to do well again. But it’s nothing I’m not used to,” said De Jager.

The experience of playing on the European Tour last year certainly has De Jager playing with more confidence.

“I had a good year on the European Tour last year, but unfortunately lost my card. But I gained a lot of experience and learnt a lot. I’ve improved certain parts of my game a lot, and I’m really looking forward to this year.

“The travelling on the European Tour takes quite a bit of adjusting. On the Sunshine Tour, you play three or four events in a row and then you can take some time off and prepare properly for the next event. On the European Tour, you’ve got to be sharp the whole time because there is no break, so there isn’t much time to work on your game. It’s much more about learning how to play and use whatever game you have that week and making the best of it. So mentally it’s quite tough.”

De Jager is also looking forward to the challenge of the Greg Norman-designed Eye of Africa golf course this week.

“It’s a pretty long golf course, but the fairways are pretty wide. My ball-striking was very good last year and that really helped me a lot. I’d say it’s a week for solid ball striking. But the condition of the golf course is looking very good. It’s always in good condition though.”

Grobler aims for improved Eye of Africa PGA showing 2

15th January 2020

Grobler aims for improved Eye of Africa PGA showing

When he played the Eye of Africa PGA Championship as a rookie last year, Clinton Grobler’s aim was to make the cut and build a strong-enough base that he could keep his Sunshine Tour playing privileges.

He didn’t only make the cut that week but was the leading rookie at the end of the tournament, finishing in an impressive share of 11th.

“Last year was good here,” admitted Grobler who sits fourth on the Rookie of the Year race after 16 tournaments, “I found that you have to be pretty straight off the tee here. I like a course where you have to hit it straight, and having the PGA guys here many of whom I knew, was also good. It was nice for me to finish the way I did because I played well in the week.”

His ambition is no longer to play for his card now as he makes his second appearance here as a professional.

“My aim was just to keep my card,” he says ahead of this year edition which tees off on Thursday at the Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate, “and now the aim is a little bit higher than just keeping my card. I want to finish in the top 30 on the Order of Merit and it’s possible with the next couple of events that are coming up. They are big events and this week is another chance for me to climb up and finish a little bit better.”

He lies 51st on the Order of Merit and a few results similar to the share of 11th he got here last year or the second-place finish he got at Humewood in September last year, will surely take him there and he believes he’s got what it takes to move even higher up that Order of Merit before the season ends.

“I feel much better than last week (at the SA Open),” he admits, “I’ve been on holiday for quite a long time and it wasn’t that great for my game. But, I’ve been practising hard this week and hopefully, it will show. I’ve done some adjustments on the grips of my clubs and hitting some nice butter-cuts, so, hopefully, it will show this week. I want to finish better than last year, a top 10 would be nice

Eye of Africa: PGA Championship play-off home? 1

Eye of Africa: PGA Championship play-off home?

In the four Eye of Africa editions of South Africa’s PGA Championship, which was founded in 1923 as a match play tournament, three have been decided in play-offs.

The tournament gets underway at 6.30am on Thursday, and defending champion Louis de Jager took the championship last season in a play-off with Trevor Fisher Jnr. He joined Jaco van Zyl and Erik van Rooyen as champions on the course. The latter two took their titles after tense play-off victories – Van Zyl edging out Dean Burmester and Van Rooyen winning his maiden Sunshine Tour title at the expense of Dylan Frittelli and Makhetha Mazibuko.

De Jager’s victory last year was particularly tense: After finishing regulation play in a share of the lead on 12-under-par with Fisher, the pair had to wait out a storm for nearly two hours before they could play their second shots on the play-off hole. In the end, De Jager was able to win with a simple par on the par-four 18th, while Fisher made a bogey.

It was De Jager’s third play-off victory in three attempts, making him the most successful of the three who have won via that route at Eye of Africa. Although Van Zyl also has three play-off triumphs to his name on the Sunshine Tour, those came in six play-offs. Van Rooyen also has a 100 percent record in sudden-death, but he has only been in one such position on the Sunshine Tour.

Prior to the move to Eye of Africa, the last play-off in the tournament came at Country Club Johannesburg in 2002, when Michiel Bothma held off Mark Murless after both players had finished on 15-under. Bothma went on to win the title again at the same venue in 2010.

In other play-off victories since the tournament became a stroke-play event in 1965, Tienie Britz won in 1971, defeating Muss Gammon and Peter Oosterhuis of England in a three-way play-off at Huddle Park; Roger Wessels overcame England’s Mark James and American Hugh Royer Jr in 1991 at the Wanderers, and Nick Price of Zimbabwe managed to get the better of David Frost at Houghton in 1997.

So, with just four-play-offs in the stroke-play era of the tournaments until the move to Eye of Africa, the new venue has contrived to produce three more in four short years.

Could the 2020 edition of the tournament be headed in the same direction?

Eye of Africa PGA Championship: What's what 8

14th January 2020

Eye of Africa PGA Championship: What’s what

The Sunshine Tour moves on from the oldest national open championship in the world to another of the most venerable tournaments of South African golf, the Eye of Africa PGA Championship to be held from 16 January to 19 January.

The event, which began in 1923 as a match play tournament, and converted to its current stroke play format in 1965, returns to Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate south of Johannesburg in Eikenhof. It boasts a prize fund of R2-million.

It was the first tournament in South Africa to be co-sanctioned by the European Tour when the 1995 Lexington PGA Championship was held at the Wanderers Golf Club and won by Ernie Els. Along with the South African Open and the South African Masters, it formed the ‘Triple Crown’ of South African golf.

Louis Oosthuizen holds the lowest winning score of 28-under-par 260 in 2008.

The format:

72 holes of stroke play. After 36 holes there will be a cut to the leading 60 professionals and those who tie on that score.

The field:


Defending champion:

Louis de Jager won the title last year in a play-off with Trevor Fisher Jnr after they both finished regulation play on 12-under-par 276.

The course:

This par-72 championship course spans over 7,222 metres and is designed by Greg Norman, built in collaboration with international developers, Medallist. The wide fairways and the A1A4 greens (a unique Greg Norman strain) on the course offer a fair challenge to golfers of all abilities. The course is played as a continuous loop, with the halfway house overlooking the ninth green.

From the first tee to the 18th green, Norman and his team included extensive bunkering and attempted to integrate the course seamlessly with its stunning natural surrounds.

Form player:

Jaco Ahlers had a great South African Open, and it’s difficult to see him losing momentum ahead of a course where he finished in a share of eighth last year. He will bring some pretty special putting skills to the party, and if he is customarily long and accurate off the tee, he will have a lethal combination of attributes.

Sentimental pick:

Thriston Lawrence had things going really well for him after the third round in the SA Open, but a closing round of four-over 75 saw him slip precipitously down the leaderboard to a share of 36th. There is a sense, however, that a single bad round is not going to spoil his efforts for too much longer and he could be a winner of one of the most important tournaments on the Sunshine Tour schedule.

The bolter:

Toby Tree of England missed the cut in this tournament last year, but the confidence he has gained from earning his European Tour playing privileges as well as a sense of homecoming to the Sunshine Tour where he has played well over a couple of seasons recently will make him a dangerous – if unlikely – winner of the tournament. But not that unlikely.

Ahlers sticking to his guns in final round of SA open

12th January 2020

Ahlers sticking to his guns in final round of SA open

Jaco Ahlers is two shots off the pace going into the final round of the South African Open Championship hosted by the City of Johannesburg – and he has to keep things in perspective ahead of that showdown.

He will be playing with defending champion Louis Oosthuizen at Randpark Golf Club on the Firethorn layout, and although Ahlers is a nine-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, that two-stroke edge Oosthuizen has over him looms large in his thinking as he chases the biggest title of his career.

“We’ve all got to chase King Louis again, and I’m looking forward to that,” said Ahlers. “I haven’t had a chance yet to go head-to-head with Louis. And in our national open too – it’s one we all grow up trying to emulate some of the great players who’ve won it. When you’re 11 or 12 and on the putting green, it’s either win the SA Open or at Augusta! I’ve got a chance, and that’s all I want.”

He will not want to get caught up in the chase, and will be pushing to keep his focus on his own game as the championships heads towards the sharp end. “I’ll just do what I want to do in the final round,” he said. “The first few holes will probably be a bit nervy, but I’ll get through that and just stick with what I want to do – pick a line, hit it to that line.

“I think it was Byron Nelson who said, ‘If you can find it, you can hit it, and if you can hit it you can hole it.’ So I’ll just try and find it and hit it again. It’s just another round of golf if you think about it.”

With the course set up at its most challenging over the weekend of the second-oldest national open in golf, Ahlers’ tally of six birdies in the third round was impressive but somewhat marred by three bogeys.

“There are mistakes to be made out there,” he said. “They tuck the pins in good positions and you should play safe and have a few good putts. But if you attack the pins and you miss them on the wrong sides, you are going to make bogeys. That’s what happened to me.

“I’ve largely stuck to my game plan this week, and the bogeys I made were ones where I missed on the wrong side. I’m trying not to do that. I’m trying to play to the bigger side of the greens. Most of the time I did that and I got rewarded for it, and if I hit it inside 10 feet, I had a chance on the putt.”

With two wins already in the 2019-20 Sunshine Tour season, a victory here would be some pretty thick icing on an already impressive cake. If it comes in the SA Open, an event co-sanctioned by the European Tour, it will make some of the heartbreak he’s endured trying to earn his European Tour playing privileges all fade away as he will be exempt for the rest of the European season.

He’s not thinking of that now. He’s thinking about what it will feel like duelling with Oosthuizen down the stretch. “Tomorrow should be pretty good, playing with Louis. I’ve got a shout at it,” he said.