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29th February 2024

Moolman and Norris share SDC Championship lead

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – South Africa’s Pieter Moolman and Shaun Norris successfully negotiated a tricky day at St Francis Links to share the lead in Thursday’s first round of the SDC Championship following their rounds of seven-under-par 65.

The wind was an ever-present reality on day one, with only the severity changing throughout the day.

Although they played at opposite ends of the draw, both Moolman and Norris started their rounds equally strong.

Moolman holed out for eagle at the first and made two birdies thereafter, while Norris opened with three straight birdies.

“It was a dream start,” Moolman said, and one which reflected his love for this Jack Nicklaus layout.

“I like this golf course. It’s one of my favourites in South Africa and I always look forward to playing it. On the first hole I just hit a really good second shot, but where the flag is you can’t really see much, so I figured it was close and when I got up there it was in the hole. I’m very happy with that start.”

Norris was just as pleased with his start to this Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned event.

“I’m pretty happy with everything. I’m hitting the ball nicely. The conditions weren’t easy but I handled it well. I just hit the ball well, gave myself great opportunities and took advantage of those. But I always love coastal conditions. It just sort of balances out the field because it’s about who controls the ball the best. So I’m happy with where I’m standing.”

Their nearest challenger is England’s Daniel Brown whose 66 was a remarkable effort considering he only arrived at St Francis Links late on Wednesday and had no practice round before going out early on Thursday morning.

“I missed my flight on Monday in Frankfurt and couldn’t fly till Tuesday night. I only arrived at the golf course at about 4:30pm on Wednesday and went straight to the physios. So it wasn’t the best preparation but, it’s a crazy game,” he said.

South Africans Wilco Nienaber and Malcolm Mitchell as well as Germany’s Nick Bachem and Scotland’s Connor Syme all finished the day on five under par. – Michael Vlismas

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SDC Championship tees off

Daniel Gibhard, the CEO of the Skills Development Corporation (SDC), tees off the SDC Championship at St Francis Links on Thursday.

This is the second year of the SDC Championship as a Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournament and extends the company’s involvement in professional golf, which also includes the SDC Open as a Sunshine Tour and European Challenge Tour event.

“I think sport is the epitome of development. It’s a foundation phase in anything going forward. And golf is the closest thing to life. You have your good and bad days, your ups and downs, your shots into the wind and with the wind. And you always have to adapt. For us as a company, we are always willing and know how to adapt and that’s part of our success,” Gibhard said.

“We always viewed our involvement with the Sunshine Tour, European Challenge Tour and DP World Tour as a long-term investment. The growth in stature of both of our tournaments is proof of our partnership coming to fruition now. I’m proud of what we have achieved, and what we will achieve in the future.”

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28th February 2024

Lombard and Frittelli looking to push home advantage in SDC Championship

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – Zander Lombard knows that Rory McIlroy will be tough to catch at the top of the DP World Tour’s International Swing standings with two tournaments left, but the South African heads into the next two weeks on home soil more than ready for that challenge.

This week’s SDC Championship, which tees off at St Francis Links on Thursday, and next week’s Jonsson Workwear Open, both co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour, will complete the DP World Tour’s eight-tournament International Swing and with it the cash bonuses for the winner and exemptions into premier events on the tour.

The incredibly consistent Lombard is currently ranked ninth on the International Swing, with countryman Dylan Frittelli – also in the SDC Championship field this week – ranked seventh. McIlroy holds a strong position at the top of the standings with just two events to play, but Lombard in particular says he’s looking forward to making a run at it over these next two weeks.

“The International Swing is in the back of my mind. I’ve got a lot to do to catch Rory (McIlroy) who is way up there with points. It will have to be two good weeks in South Africa, but I’m ready for that,” Lombard said.

Lombard’s consistency this year has been astounding and he hasn’t finished worse than tied 16th in his last five tournaments.

While Frittelli has an equally good chance of making a strong push up the International Swing standings over these next two weeks, the recent DP World Tour winner said he’s trying not to make it his sole focus.

“I’m just trying to stay focused and play well through these next events. Everybody’s in town this week, including the top Sunshine Tour players. I know there are some cherries at the end of this stretch to get into other events, but I’m just going to keep my head down and not worry too much about that.”

The focus for this field right now will indeed be on managing a St Francis Links course that was already being buffeted by strong winds in Wednesday’s pro-am.

“It will be tricky in the wind this week. The course is playing a bit soft which makes it tricky in the breeze because you don’t get the run on those low shots. It will be a great test of distance control in the wind,” said Lombard.

Defending champion Matthew Baldwin dealt with the wind superbly last year and said it will key to victory again this week.

“It’s going to be a unique experience for me defending a title for the first time. You dream of winning on the DP World Tour and to achieve that at such a beautiful venue was special. But the golf course is just as beautiful as I remember it. You’ve got to keep it in play here. This course is visually intimidating so good ball striking is important.”

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27th February 2024

Aiken relishing links challenge of SDC Championship

ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – Thomas Aiken heads into this week’s SDC Championship well aware that he’s in a new phase of his career and confident that the St Francis Links layout could reward the good momentum he’s been building up over the past few months.

It’s been a decade since Aiken last won on the DP World Tour in the Africa Open, which like this week’s event was also co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour. That tournament was also played in the Eastern Cape at East London Golf Club, a sweeping coastal golf course offering the same kind of challenge that Aiken enjoys.

He returns to the SDC Championship having finished tied ninth here last year when England’s Matthew Baldwin won, and showing good form with finishes of tied seventh, 12th and tied 23rd in three of his last five events on the Sunshine Tour, European Challenge Tour and DP World Tour.

“It’s always nice to play back in South Africa. The momentum has been heading in the right direction and I feel like I’ve been playing really good golf the last six months. I feel like I’ve played better golf now than I’ve played in my entire career,” said Aiken.

The 40-year-old was a three-time winner on the DP World Tour and an eight-time winner on the Sunshine Tour who climbed as high as 73rd on the Official World Golf Rankings before a tough few years where a few personal matters shortly before the global Covid pandemic led to a prolonged absence from the game.

“It’s been an interesting few years down to circumstances that weren’t within my control. When you don’t play competitively you lose that fine competitive edge. It’s a challenging one when you get into your 40s and the game is getting younger and younger. But I love playing the game and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could win. Every week I feel like I have a good chance at winning. But it is an interesting crossroads in my life.”

St Francis Links is certainly the kind of golf course Aiken thrives on, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of this Jack Nicklaus-designed course.

“I always love playing at the coast and enjoy the challenge of playing in the wind. It puts an emphasis on good ball striking and I like that. St Francis Links is a great golf course and I hope it plays a bit firm. It’s a great layout in the dunes here and there are a lot of holes where you have to think carefully about your second shot. It’s a thinker’s golf course rather than just a bomber’s course which suits me.” – Michael Vlismas

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25th February 2024

Åkesson marks golf comeback with NMB Championship win

GQEBERHA, Eastern Cape – Swede Björn Åkesson made a fairytale comeback to the game when he won the NMB Championship at Humewood Golf Club on Sunday.

Åkesson was declared the winner after three rounds which he led by a single stroke on 18 under par. The fourth and final round had to be cancelled due to high winds, with the tournament decided over 54 holes.

It was a dream result for the Swede who retired from golf in 2017 after losing his DP World Tour card, and then returned to the Challenge Tour this year.

“It feels amazing. This is my first win on the Challenge Tour and it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It means a lot to me,” he said.

“To get my first win on the Challenge Tour will certainly give me more confidence on the golf course.”

Åkesson started the tournament with a brilliant 63, but the key to his victory was undoubtedly the following two rounds of 67 and 68 which he played in incredibly difficult conditions at Humewood. They proved vital as Saturday’s play was delayed until just after 2pm because of high winds, and then the final round had to be called off on Sunday.

“It was very windy on Friday afternoon. It was tough conditions and I played really well. But I think the hole I am most proud of is the 54th hole. I pulled a driver left, found it in the bush, dropped, laid up to 79 metres and then hit that to two metres and made the putt. That meant the most to me because I wasn’t feeling very good at the time.

“But I just kept playing shot by shot. It was tough. But I’ve always been quite good in these tricky conditions. I don’t enjoy it but I’m good at it.”

England’s Lee Slattery took second place on 17 under par with rounds of 65, 67 and 67. Australia’s Hayden Hopewell was third on 16 under par with rounds of 63, 69 and 68.

The leading South African was Jaco Prinsloo on 13 under par, which secured him a share of sixth place.

This was the final tournament on the Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour swing, with Åkesson praising the South African run of tournaments.

“The Challenge Tour and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned events are very good because they give us the opportunity to play when it’s cold in Europe.”

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24th February 2024

Three lead as Humewood wind hits in NMB Championship

GQEBERHA, Eastern Cape – Humewood’s famous wind took its time arriving for this year’s NMB Championship, but when it did, it arrived with a vengeance on Saturday.

The start of the third round of this Sunshine Tour and European Challenge Tour co-sanctioned event was delayed for the majority of the day as strong winds buffeted this famous South African links course.

The golfers spent most of the day in the clubhouse, and the first opportunity to start the round came as late as 14:15.

When darkness finally forced another suspension of play at 19:10, the leaderboard had Australia’s Hayden Hopewell, England’s Lee Slattery and Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell tied for the lead on 15 under par, and still on their front nine.

Frenchman Martin Couvra and Swede Bjorn Akesson ended the day on 14 under par, also still on the front nine.

The third round will resume at 07:00 on Sunday morning.

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23rd February 2024

Emotional Davidse shares NMB Championship lead

GQEBERHA, Eastern Cape – An emotional Keenan Davidse has dealt with the loss of two people he was very close to and said it has fuelled the golf he’s played to claim a share of the lead going into the weekend of the NMB Championship at Humewood Golf Club.

Davidse signed for a second round of 66 on Friday to share the lead with Swede Bjorn Akesson on 14 under par. Akesson signed for a second round of 67.

They are one stroke clear of Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell following his 65, while South Africa’s Jaco Prinsloo, England’s Lee Slattery and Frenchman Martin Couvra are all on 12 under par.

Davidse played solid golf on Friday without dropping any shots but said it’s been an emotional week for him.

“I’m quite emotional this week. My coach Arnold Mentz passed away two days ago and my aunt who I was very close to also passed away. I have two special angels looking over me this week and that’s my motivation. I’ve been struggling and I’m just using that as fuel at the moment,” he said.

He also took advantage of a favourable draw as the benign conditions continued at Humewood.

“The conditions were good in the morning. It was only the last five or six holes where it became a bit windy. Humewood is known for its wind and it can get brutal out here so if the wind does come on the weekend it will be interesting. But you can’t predict anything here. I’m leading the tournament, but anything can happen here,” he said.

Yet it’s precisely the unpredictability of links golf that Davidse enjoys.

“Links golf is tough and you need a little bit of luck,” he said of his chip-in for birdie on the eighth. “But I enjoy it. I like hitting it low in the wind. I enjoy the creativity. You can hit a few off-shots and get lucky with the slopes. You just need to avoid the bunkers on a links course.” – Michael Vlismas.

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22nd February 2024

Memorable 61 earns Couvra lead in NMB Championship

GQEBERHA, Eastern Cape – It was a day of firsts for Frenchman Martin Couvra as he played the famous Humewood links for the first time and made three eagles in one round for the first time on his way to leading the first round of the NMB Championship on Thursday.

Couvra took advantage of the largely benign conditions when he teed off and posted an 11-under-par 61 to lead this Sunshine Tour and European Challenge Tour event by two strokes.

South Africa’s Neil Schietekat as well as Swede Bjorn Akesson and Australian Hayden Hopewell are his nearest challengers following their opening rounds of nine under.

Couvra is no stranger to golf success in South Africa. The young Frenchman made history when he became the first player to win the South African Stroke Play Championship, the Proudfoot Trophy (the 36-hole qualifying tournament for the SA Stroke Play), and the South African Amateur Championship in full regulation play in the same year, claiming the triple crown of South African amateur golf in 2023.

He was in the same dominant mood on Thursday as he signed for a round of five birdies and three eagles, including back-to-back eagles on the 15th and 16th holes.

“It was just perfect today. I played really well. I’m very happy to have this round in the book. It was just amazing. I’ve never had three eagles in the same round,” he said.

Couvra has looked in good form in South Africa with his finishes of tied 12th in December’s Investec South African Open and then tied sixth in the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open earlier this month.

And he certainly enjoyed his first competitive round on Humewood.

“I like links courses and this one is perfect. It changes quite a bit with the different winds here. I didn’t have too much wind though. The conditions were perfect.”

Behind him, Schietekat also admitted the wind was forgiving enough to allow him to take advantage on a layout he is equally fond of.

“It was pretty good. A couple of putts went in and it was a good day. I believe the wind is coming though so that will be fun and games. But I do enjoy this golf course. You’ve got to play different shots and run a lot of them on the ground. This is an amazing golf course. It plays like a true links and I’ve always enjoyed coming back here.” – Michael Vlismas.

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21st February 2024

Sunshine Tour remembers Arnold Mentz

The Sunshine Tour is deeply saddened by the passing of former Commissioner Arnold Mentz.

Arnold was a man with a deep love for the game of golf that shone through in his teaching of the game during his time as head professional of Southbroom Golf Club and Stellenbosch Golf Club, his role as Executive Director of the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) and a founder trustee of the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation.

His desire to see South African golf thrive was given perfect expression in his role as the Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

Even in his later years, Arnold came out of retirement to do what he loved the most – teach golf.

Arnold was a humble servant of our great game who will be sorely missed.

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Inspirational Williams chasing greatness in Gqeberha

GQEBERHA, Eastern Cape – A few weeks ago a young disadvantaged golfer from the ganglands of the Cape was asked who his golf hero was. “Robin Williams,” he said. When the Sunshine Tour professional heard this, he was speechless.

“Wow. That’s inspired me so much,” said Williams, who heads into this week’s NMB Championship on the Sunshine Tour and European Challenge Tour with the chance to continue inspiring a new generation of South African golfers.

Williams is currently ranked 11th on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca Rankings, thanks largely to his third-place finish in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am. That puts him well within the top 20, and if he remains there by the end of this Challenge Tour season he will earn promotion to the DP World Tour.

It’s the goal of the majority of Sunshine Tour professionals competing at Humewood Golf Club this week, and certainly the next step for Williams who is already a winner on the Sunshine Tour.

He showed his ability to compete against the world’s best when he led the first round of December’s Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.

“I’ve got the game to win out here and compete. It’s also about learning to handle my emotions and not just my game in the bigger events,” he said.

There’s a similar sense of expectation this week for Dylan Naidoo and Louis Albertse as they seek to build on their solid campaigns during this Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour co-sanctioned swing, with the NMB Championship the final tournament of this stretch.

Naidoo has finished fourth and 15th in two of the last three tournaments and is currently eighth on the road to Mallorca Rankings.

Albertse has been incredibly consistent with finishes of 16th, third and 15th in the three previous tournaments that places him in fifth position on the Road to Mallorca Rankings. – Michael Vlismas.