It took Andre de Decker five extra holes before he was able to lift his first Sunshine Tour trophy as he won the Royal Swazi Spa Challenge.
De Decker downed Michael Palmer on the fifth play-off hole after they both finished on 16-under-par 200 after 54 holes of regulation play in the R800 000 tournament – but a bogey on 17 nearly cost him the title.
‘I hit a great drive down the left of the 17th fairway,’ said De Decker, ‘and it just caught a tree, and came back about 60 metres, so I had about 120-metre difference for my normal approach. I had to lay up.’
In the end, he three-putted on 17 and let Palmer, a winner two weeks ago in Kenya who had eagled 17 on his way to a brilliant 64, in to the play-off.
They went to the par-three 18th three more times, and were unable to find a winner. On to the 10th, and Palmer’s approach to the short par-four through a deep valley hit the flag and dropped three feet from the pin. But he was unable to convert the chance.
Instead, it gave De Decker a chance to hit his tee shot on 18 (again!) to 10 feet, and, when Palmer was in trouble in the greenside bunker from which he was unable to extricate himself, De Decker coolly rammed home the winning putt.
‘It’s very tough going through five extra holes,’ said De Decker. ‘I felt it got a little easier as it went on, and it helped that I was playing with Michael, who is a good friend. I was thinking of the previous play-off I was in in Zambia when I lost to JJ Senekal and how I didn’t want a repeat of that.’
The victory meant the world to him.
‘This is huge,’ he said. ‘I’ve just got back from the United States. I came back with the intention of getting at least one trophy. It means so much to finally get that win and I’m excited for what the future holds because this year has been trending in the right direction. To see hard work paying off is awesome.’
Just one stroke behind the play-off par were Michael Hollick and Louis de Jager, with Rourke van der Spuy, Keenan Davidse and Keith Horne a further stroke back in a share of fifth.
For De Decker, it was his A-game which got him the win after what he felt were B-game performances in the first two rounds. ‘It was close to it in the first 12 holes,’ he said. ‘I started really hot, and form there, it was just trying to birdie every hole.’
That A-game was more than enough.
Credit: Sunshine Tour