Twelve months ago, a youngster with an Afrikaans name and an Aussie twang made his first appearance in a South African national golf event when he teed it up as a last-minute entrant into GolfRSA’s African Amateur Championship Stroke Play Championship.
Though Aldrich Potgieter would not go on to win, his third-place finish caught the attention of many – particularly his third-round of 65 that included no fewer than 11 birdies on one of the country’s toughest tracks, Leopard Creek Country Club.
Fast forward a year and the reigning Amateur champion is the African Amateur champion for 2023.
Rounds of 67 and 69 saw him leading the prestigious event at the halfway stage by a stroke over fellow GolfRSA National Squad member Fabrizio de Abreu. When bad weather washed out the final 36 holes of the tournament, Potgieter was declared the champion.
“I’m so excited about this win,” said Potgieter, who is South African-born, but Australian-raised. “This is an awesome tournament on an amazing golf course, and this has been a dream start to my second year on the GolfRSA circuit. We have a few big events coming up and my game is really good. I feel like I am peaking at the right time.
“It’s not the way I would have liked to win, and I feel for Fabi, who was creeping up on me in the third round. It just shows you that you have to play well in the first two rounds to get yourself up there and if stuff like this happens, you know you’ve covered yourself. I’m grateful that I played some really good golf in the first two rounds.”
Potgieter credited the experience gained in his African Amateur debut and competing in the Alfred Dunhill Championship late last year to his success.
“I learned so much last year and at the Alfred Dunhill, and I was able to use that knowledge and experience to better manage my game; knowing when to attack and when to play for position is so important at this course,” he explained.
“I still made a few mistakes out there, like the dropped shots on the par threes on the front nine in both rounds. It’s a learning curve. Looking back, I probably play those wholes more aggressively next time and not be so scared of the water.”
It has been a monumental 12 months for the Louis Oosthuizen Junior Golf Academy member since returning with his family to South Africa following eight years of living in Perth, Western Australia.
After playing his way into the GolfRSA National Squad with a series of national junior wins, the 18-year-old claimed the British Amateur Championship during the squad’s trip to the UK.
This earned Potgieter a berth in last year’s Open Championship at St Andrews and he also played in the Junior Presidents Cup and represented South Africa in the World Amateur Team Championships.
In just under months, he will tee it up at Augusta in the Masters, and he also qualified for the US Open.
“It’s been a year beyond my wildest dreams,” he said. “Not only am I going to play in my most favourite Major, but I also received an invitation into The Memorial. Then it’s the US Open in California in Jube. And I also get to play the Alfred Dunhill Championship again this year with this win. It like one dream after another keeps coming true.”
For De Abreu, the weather may have put paid to any chance of chasing down Potgieter and claiming his first major amateur title, but the 16–year-old Woodhill junior has plenty of time on side.
“It’s just one of those things; you can’t control the weather and the greenkeeper and the staff did an extraordinary job just to get us out there in the third round,” he said. “I would have loved the chance to test myself under the pressure of trying to win a big event, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I’m just really happy to be playing nicely and getting myself into contention, especially with the SA Stroke Play and SA Amateur coming up. I felt really good over the clubs; the whole game is working well and I was happy with the way I handled the pressure. It feels like all the hard work is starting to pay off and I hopefully I can convert it into a win over the next few weeks.”
With the championship reduced to 36 holes, the South African team celebrated a successful title defence in the team competition.
Potgieter, Jono Broomhead, Dan Bennett and Potgieter raced to a 12-stroke lead over Scotland over the first two rounds, and were in no great danger of losing the title when the heavens opened and play was cancelled on the third day.
“We would have loved to have finished the third round, because we wanted to try and set a tournament records, but was not to be,” said De Beer, who captained the team to a 19 under par victory.
“We had a good couple of days together at the squad camp before the championship started, and that boosted our team spirit and fired up our desire to win. It was all about the team over the first two days, and every player on the team made a valuable contribution. And we are over the moon that we could get this one for our manager, Gavin Groves, because he has never had a team win before.”
The reigning SA Amateur champion commented that, after a few lean years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the South African players loved having a big complement of international players in the field.
“It was awesome to have so many nations compete, and to see so many teams enter this year. Loved having the European players and the team from India here, and it was especially great that Zimbabwe, Kenya and Angola also sent teams. What a wonderful opportunity for them to test themselves and to gain experience in an event of this stature, and at South Africa’s No 1 course.
“The competition was fierce, but even on the course, we shared a lot of laughs and we forged a lot of new friendships this week.”