At face value, the Rookie of the Year race for the 2017-18 Sunshine Tour season seems to be a bit of a tortoise and hare affair between Zack Byrd of the United States and Neil O’Briain of Ireland.
The pair has a chance to settle who will win the Bobby Locke Trophy for the season at this week’s Tour Championship, which gets underway on Thursday at Serengeti Estates.
Recent winners of the trophy – named after one of South Africa’s greatest golfers – have included the likes of Haydn Porteous, Dylan Frittelli and Canada’s Graham DeLaet.
Byrd got his name on the board early in the season with his share of second at the Investec Royal Swazi Open in May last year. That big cheque saw him take a lead that looked almost unassailable as other rookies on the tour battled to emulate him.
Byrd followed that with a pair of top 10s, one at the Lombard Insurance Classic in Swaziland, and the other at the opening Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Highland Gate. He’s kept his hand in with eight other finishes in the purse during his 16 starts.
And then came the third-place finish by O’Briain in the lucrative Dimension Data Pro-Am.
The Irishman had played most of his golf during the South African winter on the Challenge Tour. On his return to the Sunshine Tour, he made just two cuts ahead of his performance at Fancourt in February. He achieved that after having to qualify for the tournament. That performance edged him R14,372 ahead of Byrd.
With both players inside the top 50 of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, they will get the opportunity to take their duel down to the wire at Serengeti Estates.
If either wins, or finishes in any position down to fourth, and the other finishes below him, that would be enough to clinch the Bobby Locke Trophy. Any position below that, and they each have to rely on the other finishing at least two positions – and more, the further down the 42-man field they finish – behind in order to win.
Will it be the ‘slow and steady start’ approach of Byrd, or the ‘fast finish’ by O’Briain that will triumph?
Photo: Sunshine Tour