Christiaan Bezuidenhout hasn’t put a foot wrong since arriving on the professional scene and his victory at the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School in December appeared to be a mandatory precursor for what to expect from the young star.
A total of 272 players took on Bloemfontein and Schoeman Park Golf Clubs in a bid to win one of the cards on offer, which went to the leading 30 players and those tied on the number after five rounds of stroke play.
It was a tough ordeal in the Free State sun, heightened by the promise of a professional future that lay five days away. Everyone who teed up would have eyed their chances at a season on the third-largest tour in the world, but getting across the finish line was a mammoth task.
And yet Bezuidenhout did it in style, boxing a 15-foot putt for eagle at the final hole to clinch a one-shot victory on 20 under par. The young South African put on an incredible display and shot 65, 66, 66 over the final three rounds to secure top honours, edging out England’s Jack Harris.
All 32 of the players who graduated will feel like winners, because they’ve secured a chance to achieve stardom. Young and old made their way on to the Sunshine Tour circuit, with 49-year-old Callie Swart being the most senior player to fight his way through.
Ruan Pretorius, son of former Free State cricketer Nico Pretorius, was the youngest graduate out of Bloemfontein, and was one of five amateurs to rise into the professional ranks. He was joined by fellow amateurs Jeff Hopkins, Jason Viljoen, Neal Herman and Teagan Gauche.
Players from 10 countries successfully earned cards as fairytale stories came flowing out of the Bloemfontein. MJ Daffue could count his lucky stars after making an eagle at the 90th hole to clinch his spot on the number, while Desne van den Berg went bogey-free on the final day to secure his place on tour.
Eddie Taylor dug deep during the final round and shot three under for his last nine holes to squeak through, while amateur Gauche birdied two of his final three holes to make the grade.
Of all the graduates it was Bezuidenhout who stood out. The youngster had already made tracks towards the big time during the 2015 season, but did not have the status he wanted on tour.
He first showed signs of brilliance when playing off an invitation at the Sunshine Big Easy Tour’s King’s Cup tournament, which he won by three strokes, and continued to dominate on that development tour with a victory at Glendower Golf Club five days later.
The Silver Lakes Country Club member was runner-up at the Big Easy Tour Championship and won the Order of Merit, which secured his playing rights on the Sunshine Tour for 2015, but in a category behind those players coming through Qualifying School.
In the weeks that followed he received an invitation to play at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, where he finished in a share of 33rd, one shot behind Branden Grace and two behind Ernie Els. It was a coming-of-age performance by the 21-year-old.
He headed back to home soil looking to improve his Sunshine Tour category by performing well at Qualifying School, which would give him a chance to make it into more tournaments in 2016. He accomplished that goal with his victory in December and ensured he’ll be the first of the graduates to get a spot at upcoming tournaments. Expect to see plenty more of him and his peers as they take on the local circuit in 2016.