Now that Louis Albertse has won on the Sunshine Tour, he is ready to grab a second chance, writes MIKE GREEN.
Louis Albertse is 25 and has just banked his first Sunshine Tour victory. He’s a little older than some of his contemporaries who are making their way on bigger stages, but not by much. And he is approaching his journey as a professional with a degree of patience and commitment admirable in someone still getting to grips with the value of those concepts.
For some young golfers, things fall into place quickly and they find themselves heading towards very early career peaks. Of course, Garrick Higgo, 22, and Wilco Nienaber, 21, are supremely talented. But being in the right place at the right time is also just plain lucky. Albertse is in his fourth season on the Sunshine Tour and turned pro a year before the other two. There is nothing lucky about his trajectory.
There’s a theory about South African golfers; that because we have a great climate and wonderful golf courses, we can churn out prodigy after prodigy. It’s true – to a degree. Albertse comes from Dundee, a coal-mining town in a valley of the Biggarsberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal. It’s not golf central. In fact, the Northern-Natal Rhinos Wrestling Club in Dundee is one of the top wrestling clubs in the province.
‘I lived in Dundee and went to school in the Midlands,’ says Albertse. ‘I learned most of my golf in Dundee at a young age through my dad, who also has a passion for the game. I played other sports, like rugby, cricket, tennis, and did motorbike riding and canoeing. But I always had my eye on golf.’
Having his eye on golf and making a living from the game are two entirely different things. Turning professional so far away from the places where that level of the game thrives in South Africa takes special dedication. ‘I started the serious golf a bit later in my life compared to others,’ he says. ‘I had to work extremely hard and the change involved in becoming a professional wasn’t going to be easy.
‘But I set my mind to working hard from quite a young age and perhaps that made it a little easier. Nothing about being a professional is easy and I felt that for a while. There was a lot pressure but I stuck to working hard.’
He had two top-10s on the Big Easy Tour, but, more importantly, he picked up top-10s on the Sunshine Tour at the Sun Wild Coast Sun Challenge and the Sibaya Challenge. Interspersed with those good results were 10 missed cuts. That kept things real for him as he finished 82nd in the Order of Merit that season with just R141 000.
It wasn’t any better the next season. There were no top-10 finishes at the 24 tournaments he played. He missed 14 cuts and finished 91st on the Order of Merit with R116,000. It could easily have been a signal to him that he should be considering another career.
To have that followed by a global pandemic which saw so much of life – let alone golf – grinding to a halt must have been intimidating to a 23-year-old desperately seeking direction. But in the abbreviated 2020 season, Albertse pulled off two top-10s and, while he naturally won the smallest amount of money of his fledgling career with R83 000, he finished 61st on the Order of Merit.
Just to emphasise what a fickle mistress golf can be, the start to his 2021 season didn’t exactly come with signs that it was going to be a banner year for him.
‘I missed out on qualifying for the Kit Kat Group Pro-Am and I missed the cut at the Players Championship,’ says Albertse. ‘But I felt I played some really good golf. That motivated me and kept me hungry for what I wanted which then resulted in a solid week at Ebotse Links the following week at the Gauteng Championship. I had a share of 15th, which kick-started something good.’
Albertse followed that with a share of fifth at the Serengeti Pro-Am Invitational and 11th at the Limpopo Championship. After that, a run of three missed cuts was broken by consecutive top-10s with a share of 10th at the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at De Zalze and third place on his own at the SunBet Challenge at Time Square.
‘I most certainly thought I was on the verge of a breakthrough at that point,’ he says. ‘I had been consistent in my routines and in my practice, especially when I was at home, and the results were starting to form a nice pattern.’
Despite a missed cut at his next event, the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Sishen, he bounced back with a share of 12th at the Sunshine Tour Invitational a week before the Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Mount Edgecombe.
‘I’d had previous good finishes there,’ says Albertse of the KwaZulu-Natal course. ‘It suits my eye. I just enjoy the golf course and my game had been trending in the right direction for some time and it clicked at the right time to create a memorable moment.’
The key to his first victory was a great start: he brushed off the effects of a late double-bogey followed by a bogey in his first round as he carded a 66. He backed it up with a 69 in the second round, also minimising the effects of two bogeys, and then he put together a second 66 in the closing round to hold off a charging CJ du Plessis by one on the day before his 25th birthday.
‘My immediate feelings were definitely emotional,’ he recalls. ‘I remembered being a young boy fighting to chase my dream, shedding blood, sweat and tears, and being an underdog in most people’s eyes as I was growing up in this sport.
‘Everything hit me when I looked up from that final putt to see the ball find the bottom of the hole to win my first Sunshine Tour professional event. Those were emotional tears that included everything I was feeling.’
Looking at other players who take years to get a maiden win, it seems Albertse has achieved this feat quite quickly.
‘Everyone would like to win as quickly as possible but taking into account my actions and journey and some changes that were made during lockdown with my coach, I’m really happy about the timing of my first win,’ he says.
‘I think it is very tough to win on the Sunshine Tour. The level of golf being played is exceptional. But winning once won’t make a second one easier. I don’t think winning on the Sunshine Tour is ever easy. It takes hard work and real determination, but having won before, it may give that little edge of confidence when the second opportunity is there.’
With the win behind him, it would be easy for him to look back on some other results and have regrets about them. His share of 11th at Limpopo, a tournament co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour and the first of three such tournaments in South Africa which offered a golden opportunity to players like Albertse to get a Challenge Tour campaign going, was followed by missed cuts at the Cape Town Open and the Dimension Data Pro-Am.
‘No regrets,’ he says. ‘Maybe in this season, yes. But as of next season or the coming tournaments next year or Q-Schools my dream and goals for playing overseas are most certainly alive. The European Tour and the PGA Tour are major goals for any professional golfer and it’s no different for me. My priority is the Sunshine Tour now, because playing good golf here will set up opportunities for playing rights overseas, and they will come through Q-Schools, starts at selected events, or winning.’
Albertse knows his victory gets him into those tournaments that have the potential to catapult him into a world occupied by the likes of Higgo and Nienaber. ‘I’ll definitely approach the European Tour co-sanctioned events a little differently knowing I can skip the pre-qualifier,’ he says. ‘But mostly I’ll do things the same way and with a lot more confidence than in previous years. As Sunshine Tour professionals, we know how big these events are, but I think the main priority is to treat them as normally as possible.’
That level head is going to take him a long way. It is tinged with just enough self-awareness to drive himself even harder. ‘The talent from South Africa is amazing,’ he says. ‘The capabilities of some of those youngsters are extraordinary and that is a huge motivation for some others like myself who are playing some exciting golf on the Sunshine Tour.
‘If I’m not already part of that, I believe I can also be a part of the wave of young pros displaying their talent overseas.’
2018: Big Easy Challenge #3 (T8th), Sun Wild Coast Sun Challenge (T10th), Sibaya Challenge (T9th), Big Easy Challenge #15 (3rd), Big Easy Tour Championship (T9th)
2020: African Bank ST Championship (T6th), Time Square Casino Challenge (T5th)
2021: Serengeti Pro-Am Invitational (T5th), Vodacom Origins of Golf – De Zalze (T10th), SunBet Challenge – Time Square (3rd), Vodacom Origins of Golf – Mount Edgecombe (1st)
– This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!