South Africa’s former No 1-ranked amateur Jayden Schaper is undaunted by the professional challenges that lie ahead, writes GARY LEMKE.
There will be a time when Jayden Schaper is standing over a putt to win his first professional golf tournament. No one knows when it will come, but it will.
And how does the Tour rookie think he will react? ‘To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it,’ says the latest decorated South African amateur to join the paid ranks. ‘I’ve always believed one shot means a lot. Whether it’s the difference of making the cut, winning a tournament or losing it by one. For me, that one shot affected ranking points in the amateurs; now it’s for money. In the amateurs if you miss that putt you go down the rankings; now, if you make it you stay in the same place or you go forward. It’s very much the same thing.
‘I’ll take every putt and every shot as it is. You don’t want to miss any putt, but there’s no different approach, except now it’s for money. Every shot is as important as the one before or after, they all count equally.’
Schaper celebrates his 19th birthday on 15 March and the decision for him to turn professional so soon after winning the Freddie Tait Cup for leading amateur at the SA Open at Randpark in January surprised many, despite the fact he had finished tie-sixth, the highest position in the event since Ernie Els in 1989. Immediately afterwards he had quelled talk of leaving the amateurs. ‘Now I’ve won the Freddie Tait Cup, winning the SA Amateur is high on my bucket list. It’s the only one left before I will look at joining the pro ranks,’ he said at the time.
However, gathered outside the players’ lounge at the Cape Town Open at Royal Cape in early February, Schaper admits things had changed. ‘The plan wasn’t to turn pro right now but the opportunity came and we had to take advantage of it. The Limpopo Championship, the Cape Town Open and the Dimension Data were three good opportunities, so with them being co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour it meant that if I went well, it would have given me a headstart as a professional,’ he says.
‘I’ve had great results in amateur golf and obviously I’ve learned a great deal from that but we figured we’d go to the next step. Coming out of the Dubai Desert Classic, where we missed the cut [ironically by one shot], I felt comfortable with the pros … I felt like it’s where I belonged. We all agreed as a team [dad Ryan and coach Grant Veenstra] that we needed to take the next step.’
Schaper is the only golfer to record the ‘Grand Slam’ of South African Junior National titles – the Nomads SA Boys
U13, U15, U17 and U19 – and the SA U19 double when he lifted the strokeplay and matchplay titles at the age of 16.
At his first tournament as a pro, the Challenge Tour’s Limpopo Championship at Euphoria Golf Estate, he missed the cut
by two strokes after rounds of 71 and 72. A week later he shot 72 and 75 to miss the cut at the Cape Town Open, before heading for the Dimension Data Pro-Am at Fancourt.
There are some who feel Schaper needn’t have hurried to turn professional. After all, he doesn’t even hold a driver’s licence yet and he’s about to enter a world where car sponsorships come with the territory. One is also mindful that Justin Rose turned pro the day after he finished fourth at the 1988 Open Championship at age 17. The Johannesburg-born Englishman missed the first 21 cuts of his pro career before going on to win the 2013 US Open and reach No 1 in the world in 2018 at the age
of 38. It really is a different ball game.
‘I understand I need to settle into professional golf,’ Schaper admits. ‘It took me a year to settle into amateur golf. I started playing in the amateurs when I was 16 and took a few months to get used to it. I won my first amateur events last year and that kicked off the whole season. I’m keeping the same focus. I will get into a position where I know what I’m doing and take it from there. One shot at a time, setting goals. It’s the same as amateur golf was; you always want to go up in the rankings.’
The Schapers live on Ebotse Golf and Country Estate’s doorstep. ‘I’m always on the golf course,’ he says. ‘That’s where
I feel most comfortable. It’s my hobby and it’s the sport I play. Being 18 and turning professional means I can’t sit around the house and chill or play PlayStation, but a lot of my mates are golfers so we are always on the course, messing round, having fun and playing in competitions.
‘I’ve been working with Grant for six years – I was his first student when he came out to Ebotse and we gelled as a
team – and it means he understands how I handle myself out there, how my swing works and what makes me tick. It’s the same with my dad; we have such a good team and a great relationship. Christo Bezuidenhout, Richard Sterne … we all
work together. I practise a lot with Christo when he’s at Ebotse. We’re all good friends. As cliched as it sounds, golf is like a family and we’re one big family. With Christo having such good form it shows how well Grant knows the players to get them to the next level.’
Schaper once had aspirations to play football. ‘I grew up playing soccer … supporting Arsenal … I still love the game, and follow it. My dad [an Everton supporter] used to play it,’ he says. ‘I played right wing, had a bit of speed and I was always the guy running up the sides, doing the hard work, but I love the game.’
Schaper had a rich junior and amateur career. He played at two Presidents Cups as well and secured the biggest win of his unpaid career, the 2019 Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
‘That Junior Players comes pretty close to the template of how I play: grinding it out on a tough golf course. I was striking the ball really well there but still had a bit of a struggle. I wasn’t putting badly and I was chipping all right but the short game wasn’t where it needed to be. I think I missed only three fairways all week and didn’t miss many greens. But I didn’t hole nearly as many putts as I wanted to. But when the ball striking is out, the putting is there and when the putting is out, the ball striking is there, so the trick is to put it all together.
‘I haven’t had one tournament where everything has come together and I think it’s like that for most golfers. I got one of
my best tips from Jacques Kallis. He said he never went out feeling 100%. He went out feeling 40, 50 or 60% of his best, so you’ve just got to wait for that moment when you’re feeling your best. That’s what I mean by grinding it out. Whoever does that the best is going to win the tournament, I guess.
‘I’ve always done well on the tougher courses like Leopard Creek and TPC Sawgrass. I like to be grinding it out. I’m solid off the tee and have my days with the short game. I pay attention to stats and I like my fairways and greens. That’s where I feel solid.’
Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa’s highest-ranked professional, winner of the 2010 Open Championship and a runner-up
at all the Majors, got a close-up view of Schaper’s potential over the first 36 holes at the SA Open in January. ‘Jayden’s got
this wonderful ball flight off the tee, with a little cut,’ said Oosthuizen. ‘A lot of the guys hit high draws for more distance, but what Jayden has is pure class. We’ll be seeing him right at the top in the future.’
Things are happening quickly for the teenager and yet he seems to be taking it in his stride. The two missed cuts at his first two pro tournaments haven’t curbed the enthusiasm or confidence.
‘From what I’ve seen, things are a lot more professional,’ he said. ‘Out here you’re playing for a living and having to work the next week, and you have to get your ranking up. But I’m approaching it the same as I did as an amateur. Obviously, it’s different playing with the pros and the guys take it a lot more seriously. In amateur golf some guys pitch up and don’t care if they miss the cut, make the cut, win or lose, whatever. In pro golf you have to make the cut.
‘I’m approaching pro golf the same as always, playing to win, going out there and getting the best results I can. There might be a difference, but I’ve got the mindset that it’s the same golf course, the same clubs you are using, the same for everyone. It’s just a stronger field, so actually it’s not too much of a difference.’