WHITE RIVER (1 September 2023) – Gerhard Pepler made his talent and mental strength public on Friday as he came from four strokes behind to claim a thrilling victory in the Gary & Vivienne Player Challenge at the White River Country Club and earn his maiden win on the Sunshine Tour.
The 23-year-old rookie fired his third consecutive round of 66 to finish on 15-under-par for the R2 million event, two shots clear of James Hart du Preez and Hennie Otto.
“It’s a dream come true to win in my rookie season, but it feels unreal as well, like I’m going to wake up. Of course now I can look forward to playing at the Gary & Vivienne Player Invitational at The Lost City as well. For any South African golfer growing up, it’s always about Mr Player and it’s amazing what he has done for our golf, he’s the reason this all happens,” Pepler said.
The tournament’s most consistent golfer won out in the end, but he had to weather a rollercoaster back nine.
Pepler sealed victory in spectacular fashion with an eagle-three on the 16th hole and then a chip-in for birdie on the par-three 17th. That took him to 16-under and he could even afford a bogey on the par-four closing hole.
Having won three times on the Altron Big Easy Tour since July last year, Pepler brought the same composure to Friday’s final round. He started well with a birdie on the par-five first hole, and an eagle on the par-five seventh hole saw him turn in 32. His back nine included three birdies and three bogeys, but also the crucial eagle on the 16th.
“This course sets up nicely for me and I’m long enough to hit it past the trees. So going for the flag on 16 was always on the cards once I hit the fairway. I had 134 to the flag and hit a sand-wedge in, aiming a bit short of the hole, and then I sunk the 10-foot putt,” Pepler explained.
“That eagle helped a lot and then the chip-in on 17 nailed the win. I’d be lying if I said the nerves were not there. I had a bit of bad luck on the back nine with the swirling wind not pushing the ball back on 11 and ending in the hazard, and then a plugged lie in the bunker on 14. And then the nerves made it feel much more difficult.
“I’ve knocked on the door a couple of times already this season, but just one hole would take me out of it. But I’ve been working very hard with my mental coach on not staying in the past, not thinking about your mistakes the whole time but just the next hole. So I did not lose my cool. I was able to stay in it after making a small mistake today.
Kyle de Beer, who had led after the first two rounds, started the final round solidly with two birdies in his first seven holes to move to 16-under. But he bogeyed the next two holes and then also dropped shots on 11, 12 and 14, to post a 73 for 12-under-par.
Dylan Naidoo began the final round two behind De Beer and was one-under at the turn. But he also bogeyed the 11th and 12th holes, and dropped a shot as well on the final hole, to finish with a 71. He and De Beer shared fourth place.