Reigning Amateur champion Aldrich Potgieter showed serious restraint as he swept into the lead on a windy opening day at the African Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Leopard Creek on Monday.
The 18-year-old put on a superb ball-striking display to fire a five-under-par 67 and lead a jam-packed leaderboard.
His closest challenger, Fabrizio de Abreu, carded 68, while two more fellow GolfRSA National Squad members, Dan Bennett and Pascal Gunther, tied for third on three-under.
Scotland’s Gregor Graham and Morris Schiefner shared fifth on two-under, with five players a further stroke back.
When Potgieter made his debut on South African soil in the GolfRSA SA Swing opener just 12 months ago, the young prodigy was impressive, and soared into striking distance of 54-hole leader Casey Jarvis with a seven-under-par 65 on moving day.
He got within two shots of Jarvis with two holes to play in the final round, but his aggressive style of play proved costly, and he dropped seven shot shots on the closing holes.
“I chased the lead; I got too aggressive, and I paid for it,” he said after having to settle for third.
The more mature version that pitched up this week still attached the fairways, but the experience gained last year and during the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December resulted in a more constructed and patient performance.
“It was a slow start this morning, but those two par threes with the water play difficult when the wind picks up,” said the Louis Oosthuizen Junior Golf Academy member, who offset a brace of bogeys with two birdies on the front nine. The birdie on 10 got things rolling and the eagle on 13 helped.”
In a first for the championship, playing partners Potgieter, Simon Hovdal from Sweden and Scotland’s Gregor Tait all eagled the magnificent 502-metre par five.
“One guy holed out from 80 metres, and the other guy holed a 35-footer. I felt a little pressure to hole that four-footer. We believe it’s the first time in championship golf that the whole three-ball made eagles, so that’s pretty special.”
Potgieter backed up the eagle with birdies on 14 and 15 and finished with a birdie after dropping the par-four 17th.
“Both 14 and 15 were tricky, playing into the wind. I hit a good approach on 14, and two-putted for birdie on 15. The tee was forward on 17, and the wind was into my back, so I tried hitting a soft 8-iron but the wind didn’t touch it. I was up on the lip of the bunker. I tried to play for the firm sand, but I went straight underneath the ball and only just got it on the green.”
Frustrated after lipping out for par, Potgieter hit a monster drive on the last hole.
“I had 80 metres in and two-putted for birdie,” he said. “I definitely played some holes with more caution and picked the holes where I could rip it off the tee. It was nice to put a decent score on the board, and to help my team into the lead.”
The GolfRSA Proteas started their title defence in the 54-hole team competition strongly, chiefly thanks to the Pinnacle Point golfer’s 67 and the 69 from new cap Bennet.
Reigning SA Stroke Play champion Jono Broomhead returned a level par round to put the team at the top of the leaderboard on eight-under. Captain Kyle de Beer, the 2022 SA Amateur champion and the only member of last year’s victorious team to return for duty, opened with 76.
“It’s great to have some new blood on the team, and I was really impressed by Dan, our new cap, and Aldie as well, but we’ve come to expect this kind of golf from Aldie,” De Beer said. “Jono never stopped fighting. Hopefully I can sort a few things out on the range and help the team over the next two rounds.
“It was really tricky out there in the two-club wind, and I think the course was set up very fair in anticipation of the weather. A lot of tees were pushed up, but the flags were still in really tough positions, and it was a challenge, as always.”
Gregor Graham (70), Matthew Wilson (71) and Tait (73) combined for two-under 214 to move Scotland into second, while Swedish trio Hovdal, Eric Sabelstrom Holmberg and Neo Berg posted respective rounds of 72, 73 and 75 to finish third on 220.