By Michael Vlismas
At the end of last year, Toto Thimba Jnr. was very clear on the biggest goal he had for 2020. â€œI want to win the SA Openâ€. The South African took a big step towards achieving this goal as he came through Thursdayâ€™s first round of the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg just two shots off the lead.
Thimba Jnr. opened with a seven-under-par 64 on Randparkâ€™s Bushwillow course, putting him well within reach of leader Johannes Veerman of America who signed for a sublime nine-under 62 on Bushwillow.
Veerman is one stroke clear of the field, with Italian Nino Bertasio and South Africaâ€™s JC Ritchie his nearest challengers.
Branden Grace came through day one with a 64 on the Firethorn course, which was the dayâ€™s best on this layout.
Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen opened with a solid 65 on Bushwillow. â€œIt was decent. I drove it nicely. There were a few putts where I didnâ€™t quite get the lines right, but Iâ€™m rolling it nicely. I wouldâ€™ve taken six-under for my first round so Iâ€™m happy,â€ said Oosthuizen.
Top-ranked South African amateur Jayden Schaper also signed for a 65 on Bushwillow.
Thimba Jnr, a member of the Sunshine Tourâ€™s Gary Player Class of professionals identified for support with their careers and who are pushing each other to greater heights, is playing with a true belief that a place on one of the most famous trophies in golf is not beyond his reach.
And he is well aware of the impact it would make should he achieve his goal of a victory in his national Open.
â€œIf I win, it will open doors for a lot of Black golfers. Thatâ€™s my goal and thatâ€™s what I want to achieve. I want to be an inspiration,â€ he said.
Thimba Jnr. claimed his breakthrough Sunshine Tour victory in the KCB Karen Masters in Kenya last year. And he was also inspired by the performance of Madalitso Muthiya in the last edition of this tournament as he challenged for the title with Louis Oosthuizen before finishing tied seventh.
â€œAnytime a Black golfer plays well it inspires me. You just have to stay patient, work hard and believe in yourself. I write the word â€˜Believeâ€™ on my golf ball to remind myself that I can win out here.â€
Tournament leader Veerman was delighted to tee off the decade with a 62.
â€œIt was a good round of golf. The course was set up to go low out there. The wind didnâ€™t blow hard, the rough isnâ€™t long, and the greens were receptive, so there was a good number out there,â€ he said.