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Van Tonder flying high at Huddle 1

30th September 2020

Van Tonder flying high at Huddle

Daniel van Tonder continued his dominance of the Sunshine Tour’s Rise-Up Series as he opened with a nine-under-par 63 including two eagles to lead the first round of the Vodacom Championship Reloaded at Huddle Park Golf Club on Wednesday.

Van Tonder is one clear of Christiaan Basson and Louis de Jager, and with two rounds to go he is on track to claim his third victory on the five-tournament Rise-Up Series.

“Everything about my game just feels really good at the moment. I’m very happy. I played simple golf again. I hit driver a lot and gave myself chances to hit wedges close to the pins. I made one bogey on the par-three third hole where I hit it over the green, but after that I made a few birdies and two eagles so I’m quite happy,” he said.

Musiwalo Nethunzwi is only two shots off the lead after opening with a 65, while young star Jayden Schaper is in contention once again after signing for a 66.

But Van Tonder is playing with such confidence at the moment that it would be hard to see past him adding a third title on the series this week.

“I think it helps that I’ve got some good sponsors behind me now, and that takes a lot of pressure off. I can go out there and play my golf,” he said.

His confidence shone through in his two eagles. On the par-five sixth hole he hit a seven iron to 10 feet from the hole and holed the putt. And then on the par-five 14th he lipped out with a lob wedge for an albatross, leaving him a tap-in for eagle there.

“The wind was blowing quite a bit, but for some reason the worse the weather gets the better it is for me. I like it tough,” he said.

As much as he’s pleased with his current form, Van Tonder believes he’s playing to the kind of potential he’s always believed he’s had.

“I’ve always felt that I want to be one of South Africa’s best golfers. I just want to get overseas and prove myself, and I feel like I’m just working towards getting that chance to go over there.”

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Abt appointed Commissioner of Sunshine Tour

Abt appointed Commissioner of Sunshine Tour

The Sunshine Tour has officially announced that Thomas Abt will assume the role of Commissioner of the Tour as of 1 October 2020.

Current Commissioner Selwyn Nathan will remain as Deputy Chairman of the Sunshine Tour and will serve as Executive Director of the Tour for the duration of the handover to Abt.

Abt was appointed as the Deputy Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour in February 2018 and as eventual successor to Nathan in the role of Commissioner.

The announcement forms part of a restructuring of the Sunshine Tour as part of the Board’s vision to usher in a new era in its history.

Sunshine Tour Tournament Director Ludwick Manyama has been appointed as the new Transformation Manager of the Tour, while Pauli van Meersbergen, Tournament Director on the Sunshine Ladies Tour, has been appointed General Manager of the Sunshine Ladies Tour.

The Sunshine Tour’s leadership sees the departure of Grant Wilson, the Chief Operating Officer, after 17 years and Theo Manyama, Tournament Director and globally respected rules official, after 39 years. Both have taken retirement packages.

“I take great pleasure in welcoming Thomas to the new role of Commissioner. Thomas is widely respected throughout the world of golf for his role as first a tournament promoter and then his duties as Deputy Commissioner. I cannot think of anybody more qualified and more passionate about the Sunshine Tour to take it forward into a new era of growth,” said Nathan.

“I would also like to pay tribute to Grant Wilson and Theo Manyama. Both have been incredible servants to the game and the Sunshine Tour. Grant has been instrumental in helping the Tour to build the very strong foundation it enjoys today. And Theo has flown the flag proudly for our Tour and our country around the world where he’s been invited to officiate. They are an integral part of Sunshine Tour history and the success of our Tour.

“Theo’s son Ludwick will carry on his legacy in his current position as a Tournament Director at the Sunshine Tour and also as the new Transformation Manager as we seek to fully maximise the golf talent we have in Southern Africa. And Pauli van Meersbergen has made incredible strides as the first female Rules Official and then Tournament Director on the Sunshine Tour, and she is integral to the future success of the Sunshine Ladies Tour.”

Johann Rupert, the Chairman of the Sunshine Tour, paid tribute to Nathan’s contribution to not only the Sunshine Tour but South African golf as a whole.

“Selwyn has served South African golf in many forms for 50 years, and he has always done so with the interests of the game at heart. As Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour, Selwyn has helped to grow the Tour to its strongest position in decades. He has led admirably through some of the greatest challenges, not least of which has been the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also planned for the future of the Tour through his expert mentoring of Thomas Abt, who now assumes this responsibility. The Board of Directors is extremely grateful for the invaluable contribution he has made.”

Abt said he was delighted to take up this new position.

“I’m extremely honoured to be handed this responsibility. I cannot thank Selwyn enough for giving me this opportunity and the time I have spent learning from him, and I’m also grateful to the Sunshine Tour Board of Directors for placing their faith in me. This is an exciting time for the Sunshine Tour as we embark on a new journey with a number of new innovations to bring professional golf in Southern Africa to our fans, and I’m looking forward to building on the incredible foundation we have with our many valued sponsors and partners.”

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Van Rooyen sets sights on a hat-trick

29th September 2020

Van Tonder sets sights on a hat-trick

Some of his fellow Sunshine Tour professionals refer to him as the Bryson DeChambeau of their Tour, and Daniel van Tonder’s unique approach to his career is certainly paying off as he heads into this week’s Vodacom Championship Reloaded at Huddle Park Golf Club.

The Vodacom Championship Reloaded is the grand finale of the Sunshine Tour’s ground-breaking Rise-Up Series, which marked the official resumption of professional golf on the Sunshine Tour since the suspension of its activities in March because of COVID-19.

And Van Tonder certainly used his time in lockdown to reload his own career. When this 54-hole tournament tees off on Wednesday, Van Tonder will begin his quest for a third victory on the five-tournament Rise-Up Series.

After wins in the African Bank Sunshine Tour Championship and the Vodacom Championship Unlocked, Van Tonder’s own approach to his career is clearly paying off.

“I’ve always been happy to do my own thing,” says Van Tonder, whose swing has long been a talking point amongst his fellow professionals. Not only is it powerful, but Van Tonder also elicits a uniqiue grunt when he strikes the ball. And then during lockdown he discovered intermittent fasting, which he says has been another major key to his success on the fairways.

Jaco Ahlers believes it’s Van Tonder’s ownership of his approach to the game that makes him the successful golfer he is.

“His swing is his own, but he repeats it so well and that’s what you need. I think just overall he’s in a good space and is very comfortable with himself and his game at the moment.”

Darren Fichardt is another former Rise-Up Series winner who is in the Vodacom Championship Reloaded field. The winner of the first tournament – the Betway Championship – is well placed to relate to the way Van Tonder takes his own approach to the game and does not follow those around him.

Fichardt has carved out one of the most successful careers on the Sunshine Tour with a swing that was never textbook, and which many in the game advised him would never stand up to the rigors of professional golf.

“My swing is not textbook, so I had a lot of people advising me against pro golf when I started out. As I got better the critics started saying things like, ‘How do you plan on making a living out of golf with a swing like that?’ But luckily I didn’t listen too much. Fortunately I have a little bit of the water-off-a-duck’s-back attitude.”

The final tournament also marks the culmination of the Betway Birdie Challenge on the Series. Jaco Ahlers leads the Betway Birdie Challenge going into this week’s tournament. Ahlers tops the standings with 57 birdies, with Fichardt and Van Tonder in a group of players chasing him on 55 birdies. The leading birdie maker at the end of the Series will win R25 000, followed by R15 000 for second place and R10 000 for third. – Michael Vlismas.

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Van Tonder unlocks another win in Vodacom Championship Unlocked

25th September 2020

Van Tonder unlocks another win in Vodacom Championship Unlocked

Daniel van Tonder claimed his second victory on the Sunshine Tour’s new Rise-Up Series when he won the Vodacom Championship Unlocked by one stroke at ERPM Golf Club on Friday.

Van Tonder closed with a final round of 67 to win on 13 under par 203, one clear of MJ Viljoen. Viljoen had led for 36 holes of this 54-hole tournament but was unable to maintain his challenge. Viljoen did make for a close finish though as he needed a birdie at the last to force a playoff, but had to settle for a par instead and a closing 73. Pieter Moolman took third place on 11 under par with a final round of 67.

This is Van Tonder’s second victory on the Series following his triumph in the African Bank Sunshine Tour Championship.

“It feels awesome. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work and just doing my own thing. My whole game from tee to green feels good, and I think that just comes from the all the practice I’ve been doing,” said Van Tonder, who said he would like to use his victory to raise awareness for mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that his wife’s grandfather has recently been diagnosed with.

Van Tonder started the final round five shots off Viljoen’s lead and birdied his first two holes to make an immediate impact. He was back to level par for the day through his first seven holes though. But then came a run of five birdies in eight holes that effectively carried him to victory.

“It was fun out there. The wind was blowing quite a bit, but I had checked the weather the night before so I expected it to blow. In a way I was looking forward to it because I knew that in the wind, five shots back wouldn’t be too much to make up. My game is suited to the wind and I play quite aggressively when it’s blowing,” he said.

Jaco Ahlers still leads the Betway Birdie Challenge through four tournaments on the Rise-Up Series with 57 birdies. The Betway Birdie Challenge will run for the full five tournaments on the series, with the leading birdie maker walking away with R25 000 at the end of the series, followed by R15 000 for second place and R10 000 for third.

And Ahlers was himself full of praise for Van Tonder’s performance on this Series to date.

“I think we’ll see a lot more from Daniel. He’s such a good ball striker. His swing is his own, but he repeats it so well and that’s what you need.” – Michael Vlismas.

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Viljoen tightens grip on Vodacom Championship Unlocked

24th September 2020

Viljoen tightens grip on Vodacom Championship Unlocked

It was possibly the most perfect way MJ Viljoen could have celebrated Heritage Day. For this golfer from Bloemfontein, it’s already a bonus that his girlfriend’s birthday is on “Braai Dag”. And then on Thursday he went one better and maintained his place at the top of the leaderboard in the Vodacom Championship Unlocked.

Viljoen added a 67 to his opening 64 at ERPM Golf Club and heads the field on 13 under par going into Friday’s final round of this Rise-Up Series tournament.

His nearest challenger is Jake Redman on 11 under par following a 67. And he has two former Rise-Up Series champions chasing him as Darren Fichardt heads into the final round just three strokes off the lead, while Daniel van Tonder is five strokes back.

But Viljoen said he came into this tournament with the right mindset of aiming to win and not just compete, and it seems to be paying off for him.

For the second day in succession he started his round with a birdie, and it was a particular run of five birdies in six holes over the turn that kept him ahead of the rest of the field. And for the second day in succession he dropped only one shot in his round.

“It was nice to follow up my 64 with a good round. To back up that 64 with a round of five under is nice,” he said. “Things got a little bit slow on the back nine and I lost a bit of focus on the last five holes, which is where I made my only bogey of the day. But I’m very happy with the result.”

Viljoen is chasing his second victory on the Sunshine Tour after winning in 2017. But this will be the first time that he heads into a final round as the tournament leader.

“It does make a difference to have that experience of winning going into the last round, but this is the first time where I’m leading so that will be new for me. And I’m going to try and learn from it and I just hope I play well.”

There was no chance Viljoen was going to let his focus slip and relax with a braai on Heritage Day. That will have to wait. “The golf course takes quite a bit out of me. But maybe I’ll celebrate with a nice braai on Friday.” – Michael Vlismas.

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Viljoen flying high in Vodacom Championship Unlocked

23rd September 2020

Viljoen flying high in Vodacom Championship Unlocked

He’s already a qualified pilot, and now MJ Viljoen is hoping to take his golf career to new heights after coming through Wednesday’s first round of the Vodacom Championship Unlocked with a two-stroke lead.

Viljoen opened with an eight-under-par 64 at ERPM Golf Club and made only one bogey as he played his way to the top of the leaderboard in this Rise-Up Series tournament on the Sunshine Tour. His nearest challengers on six under par are Jake Redman, Daniel van Tonder, Neil Schietekat and Paul Boshoff. Van Tonder signed for a bogey-free 66 as he goes in search of a second title on the Rise-Up Series.

Viljoen is looking to claim his second victory on the Sunshine Tour after winning the Fish River Sun Challenge in 2017. But he believes he’s a vastly different golfer to then, and he’s determined to start making the kind of moves in his career he believes he’s capable of.

“When I won in 2017 it was unexpected. I’ve grown a lot since then as a golfer. It feels like I’m doing all the right things now on and off the golf course in order to win. I started this tournament with the right mindset of going out to win and not just compete. I’m motivated to get better and do something with the talent I have. Time doesn’t go backwards, so that’s my biggest motivation at the moment” he said.

Viljoen certainly didn’t waste any time on Wednesday. He started with a birdie on the 10th, his first hole, and was seven under through his first 12 holes thanks to a satisfying run of birdies.

“I’ve been working a lot on my swing and on the right techniques there, but I had neglected my putting a bit. I wouldn’t say my putting was bad, but it wasn’t better than average. So I’ve been working on that aspect of my game as well.”

“Working on my swing was the right thing to do. But it’s one thing to hit it close to the hole and another to make those putts. So if I can put those two together, then I feel I can be more consistent in terms of challenging for tournaments. Having won before, I know what it feels like and I know what to do. I don’t have to experiment. That helps a lot.” – Michael Vlismas.

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SA success inspires Strydom

22nd September 2020

SA success inspires Strydom

A weekend of South African golf success around the world has inspired Tristen Strydom to push even harder for his maiden Sunshine Tour victory when he tees it up in this week’s Vodacom Championship Unlocked at ERPM Golf Club.

Strydom is part of another strong local field that returns to action on Wednesday after a two-week break on the Sunshine Tour’s Rise-Up Series, and he says that watching Garrick Higgo claim his maiden European Tour title this past weekend is all the motivation he needs to work even harder on his own career.

“In my first year out of school I moved to Stellenbosch and spent quite a bit of time with Garrick. I’ve always known he’s a really good golfer. To do what he’s done so soon in his career proves he’s the real deal. And it motivates me because I’ve played against him, and he’s beaten me and I’ve beaten him. So it motivates me to just keep working even harder,” he said.

Strydom has been edging ever closer to a victory on this Rise-Up Series. He finished tied 13th in the African Bank Sunshine Tour Championship, and then was tied for the lead with George Coetzee going into the final round of the Titleist Championship before finishing second there.

“It gives you confidence because I’ve proven that I can compete out here on the Sunshine Tour, and this week I’m going in with that comfort of knowing I’m playing well. But golf is a funny game and you just need to take it one step at a time.”

Strydom certainly won’t be alone in having taken inspiration from an outstanding weekend for South African professional golf. While Higgo was winning in Portugal, Coetzee finished third there a week after winning his fifth European Tour title. In the US Open, Louis Oosthuizen played his way to a finish of third at Winged Foot. Then on the PGA Tour Champions, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen both finished within the top five in the PURE Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach. And on the LPGA Tour, Ashleigh Buhai lost a playoff for the Cambia Portland Classic as she chased a first LPGA Tour title in Main.

It will be with those achievements in mind that the likes of young stars such as Strydom, Deon Germishuys, Jayden Schaper, Thriston Lawrence, James Hart du Preez, Jayden Schaper and Luca Filippi will all be setting some lofty goals for themselves at ERPM this week.

The Vodacom Championship Unlocked is part of a strong back-to-back finish of Vodacom events to the Rise-Up Series. This week’s event will be followed by the Vodacom Championship Reloaded at Huddle Park Golf Club next week, making for two weeks totalling R1.2 million in prize money for the local professionals. – Michael Vlismas.

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Vodacom supports new Rise-Up Series

21st September 2020

Vodacom supports new Rise-Up Series

The Sunshine Tour’s continued drive to restart its schedule has been given another major boost with the announcement that Vodacom will sponsor the final two tournaments on the Tour’s new Rise-Up Series.

The five-tournament Rise-Up Series will now close with back-to-back Vodacom tournaments totalling a joint R1.2 million in prize money.

The Vodacom Championship Unlocked will be played at ERPM Golf Club from 23-25 September, followed by the Vodacom Championship Reloaded at Huddle Park Golf Club from 30 September to 2 October.

“Vodacom has a proud history with South African professional golf, and a longstanding commitment to the deeper development of the game and its South African stars. As such we’re extremely proud to be able to support the restart of the Sunshine Tour through the new Rise-Up Series, and to help not only the professionals and those who work in golf but also the fans to stay connected through sport,” said Michelle van Eyden, Head of Sponsorship at Vodacom.

The Rise-Up Series has marked the official restart of the Sunshine Tour’s schedule after the Tour was forced to suspend its activities in March as per the national lockdown regulations.

“Vodacom is one of our longest-standing partners on the Sunshine Tour and we are extremely grateful for their support of the Rise-Up Series and for assisting us in giving our members playing opportunities as we continue to navigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Selwyn Nathan, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

Vodacom’s support of South African professional golf is one of the longest in the history of the local game, covering tournament sponsorships, golf development and caddie programmes.

The Vodacom Origins of Golf Series, an annual series of tournaments on the winter schedule of the Sunshine Tour, is also the longest running pro-am series in South African professional golf with a history dating back to 2004 and having helped develop the careers of stars such as Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and George Coetzee.

The Rise-Up Series teed off in August and has already featured three tournaments at Killarney Country Club, Glendower Golf Club and Pretoria Country Club.

George Coetzee won the last event at Pretoria Country Club, shortly before claiming his fifth European Tour victory in the Portugal Masters. Darren Fichardt and Daniel van Tonder are the other winners on the Rise-Up Series to date.

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20th September 2020

Higgo wins maiden European Tour title

Garrick Higgo made it back-to-back wins on the European Tour for South Africa as he claimed his maiden title on the Tour in the Open de Portugal at Royal Óbidos.

Higgo, another member of the highly successful GolfRSA National Squad before he turned professional and then won the Sunshine Tour Rookie of the Year title last season, closed with a stunning bogey-free seven under par 65 to finish on 19 under par, one stroke clear of Spain’s Pep Angles who finished second on 18 under par.

Higgo’s countryman George Coetzee continued his excellent form and followed his Portugal Masters victory last week with a tied for third place at Royal Óbidos on 15 under par, alongside England’s Andrew Wilson.

“It feels awesome,” Higgo said. “I thought it was going to be a little bit easier over the last three holes but he [Pep Angles] made it a bit tough. That birdie on the last was really, really nice. I just really enjoyed it and I just made sure I had fun out there. It’s a funny feeling. I’m sure it’ll kick in tonight, but for now it’s just nice.

“I could have done even better, golf’s always like that. It was nice. I don’t think I made a bogey in two days, so I was just really, really sharp. My short game was very good, I chipped in three times so every time I was out of position, I made it a ‘double-plus’.”

The 21-year-old dropped just three shots during the tournament – a double bogey on his sixth hole of the week and that bogey on the tenth during his second round – and had played only a handful of third round holes when Saturday’s play was suspended due to darkness.

He returned to the course on Sunday morning and carded a six under par round of 66 to end round three just one shot off the lead, which was held by Portugal’s Vitor Lopes.

Lopes could not continue his low-scoring performance of the first three rounds and dropped off the pace during round four, but Higgo picked up where he left off.

Five front nine birdies, including a chip-in on the sixth hole, saw him make the turn in 31 before further gains on the 11th and the 18th saw him finish on 19 under par.

It was a nervous wait for the Stellenbosch native with Angles playing in the group behind, but when the Spaniard was unable to convert the 35-foot eagle putt he needed for a play-off, victory was secured for Higgo.

Higgo will now receive additional European Tour playing rights after winning in Portugal, an event which was dual-ranked with the European Challenge Tour, and after securing victory he admitted that the feeling had not yet sunk in. – European Tour.

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Oosthuizen hunting Wolff in US Open

Oosthuizen hunting Wolff in US Open

Louis Oosthuizen is four shots off the US Open lead with Sunday’s final round to come, and in a great position to chase his second Major championship victory.

Oosthuizen took advantage of a good draw on Saturday and signed for a 68 to climb to one under par overall, with American Matthew Wolff leading the field on five under. Bryson DeChambeau is Wolff’s nearest challenger on three under following his third round of 70.

“Any under-par round at a US Open you’ll take,” Oosthuizen told the media. “I think we got very lucky with the draw today. Waking up this morning, watching a bit of golf, you could see it was really cold, windy, and definitely died down for us. The sun came out a little bit. Definitely lucky on the draw today.”

The South African has been quietly figuring out how to play a US Open, with this being the Major that’s seen him record the most top 10 finishes, including tied seventh in 2019, tied second in 2015 and tied ninth in 2011. And he knows exactly what he needs to do in the final round.

“I need to play pretty similar to what I did today. You need to hit fairways. I think everyone out there now, especially on this golf course, knows you need to be patient. A lot can happen even in the last two, three holes, so try and get yourself in a position with three, four, five holes to go and see what you can do. This golf course, you can’t play it out of the rough. You need to be in the fairway even though if you’re a little further back, and from there you can do something.”