By Lali Stander
The South Africans might outnumber the international line-up in this year’s South African Stroke Play Championship two-to-one, but number one ranked amateur Tristen Strydom warned the local mob not to take their eyes off the foreign invasion from 11 countries competing at Blue Valley Golf and Country Estate from 2-4 February.
“I believe we can beat the foreigners, but we should guard against complacency,” said Strydom.
“They didn’t have much of a festive break, but most of us had to get the rust off after a long holiday. There are some really good players from Europe here this week, but I believe we have the depth to keep the trophy on home soil this year. When the SA Stroke Play title is on the line, every South African amateur finds an extra gear.”
Last year Frenchman Ugo Coussaud claimed a three stroke victory over local hope Rupert Kaminski, while a further five international contenders finished in the top 10.
Coussaud is back in title defence, but Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson and Craig Ross – who finished seventh and joint eighth at Port Elizabeth Golf Club – also returned to take another stab at the title of the prestigious championship.
England’s Jamie Bower sounded a stern warning to the South African posse when he lifted Gauteng North Open title at Irene Country Club this past weekend and the 47-strong international line-up is further strengthened by reigning British Boys Amateur champion Marcus Svensson from Sweden, as well as Grant Forrest from Scotland and Ireland’s Jack Hume, respectively ranked 21st and 41st in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Strydom won the Western Province Amateur Stroke Play, the Boland Amateur Stroke Play and the KwaZulu-Natal Open Stroke Play Championships in quick succession early last year, but a back injury forced him to the bench for the better part of the 2015 season.
He will have Coussaud and recent Freddie Tait Cup winner Cameron Moralee for company in the first two rounds of the 72-hole event and he is hungry to break this nine month title-drought.
“This could be the week to do it,” the 19-year-old Ekurhuleni said.
“I really like this course. The layout suits my eye and my game and I really enjoyed the way it felt out there in the practice round on Monday.”
Strydom believes the Gary Player championship layout could benefit the local players.
“The course will benefit the longer hitters and the short game specialists,” Strydom said.
“It plays very long from the back, but the fairways are generous. The greens are pretty big and they are running nice and fast and very true. Given the lack of rain and the drought we’ve experienced in Gauteng, it is amazing what the green staff at Blue Valley have done to get the course to championship condition.
“I believe there are a lot of local players that can do well at this course and I expect to see some low scoring from them this week. Playing at this elevation could be challenging for the international players and we should pounce and take the early advantage.”
Coussaud is ranked fourth in the French Golf Federation standings and gunning for a spot in the three-man team that will represent France at the World Amateur Team Championship in September.
“I have to defend a big chunk of world golf rankings points this week and I’m feeling the pressure,” the 23-year-old Angouleme golfer admitted.
“I’m striking the ball well and the putter is working, but I’m having difficulty to adjust my game to the altitude. The ball is flying much further than we are used to.
“We arrived on Saturday and we played nine holes Sunday and 18 today. I would have liked one more practice round to work on my distance control, especially with the shorter irons and wedges.
“I usually prefer traditional courses to estate courses, but this course has a really nice flow and it is in fantastic condition. Hopefully I find my range in the first round and can put up a good fight.”
(Photo: Ernest Blignault)