Former IGT Tour winner NJ Arnoldi fired a flawless nine-under-par 63 to set a furious pace on the opening day of the Race to Q-School #9 at Centurion Country Club on Monday.
The Silver Lakes golfer launched his assault on the Tshwane course with an eagle three at his third hole and he picked up birdies at 13, 15 and one before finishing in a flurry with four straight birdies to put the finishing touches on a bogey-free round.
Arnoldi leads by two shots from former Sunshine Tour player Coert Groenewald, whose equally impressive 65 was marred by a lone bogey at the 13th.
Amateur Clayton Mansfield recovered from a double-bogey and bogey combination at 10 and 11 to finish a further two strokes adrift, while amateur pair Ruan Korb and Alex van Heerden grabbed seats on the bus at four under alongside Englishman Gregg Blainey, Conway Kunneke and Dean O’Riley.
Arnoldi reeled in nine top-10 finishes this season in 11 starts on the Big Easy Tour and on the IGT Tour, he boasts eight top 10s, including a runner-up finish last month after he lost in a playoff against Jaco Prinsloo in the Race to Q-School #6 at Irene Country Club.
The flawless performance marked an upturn in fortunes for Arnoldi, who felt that for the last couple of weeks he was not getting the rewards his game deserved. There was certainly no shortage of riches in return for his fine golf on Monday, though.
‘I played really well and I hit a lot of very good shots,’ said the 24-year-old. ‘I’ve played really well consistently this season, but I’ve also kept working on the game and the results have not always been what I expected. I worked really hard in the last two weeks, but I put the clubs away this weekend and took some time off.
‘I felt great about my swing after warming up this morning. When I holed the 30-footer for eagle at 12 and birdied the 13th, it just kind of signalled a great round. You need to know where to hit it here at Centurion to go low. You have to play a strategic round and I executed it really well today.’
Arnoldi will be heading to Bangkok for the Asian Tour’s First Stage Qualifier in the New Year. But things could change back home, too, and he is keeping his options open.
‘I contemplated going to Asia last year, but I didn’t have the finance in place,’ he said. ‘So I stayed home and played the IGT Tour and Big Easy Tour circuits. I finished seventh on the Big Easy, which is two spots shy of automatic qualification for the Sunshine Tour next year.
‘At the moment, Jason Viljoen and Mark Murless – who finished one and two – are looking good to keep their Sunshine Tour cards and, if that happens, the rest of us will all move up two spots. That means I will have my card next year, but the management at the South African Hall of Fame has given me the financial support to go to Asia, and it’s an opportunity I definitely want to explore.
‘So, I’m keeping my hand in it here on the IGT Tour. This is where I cut my teeth as an amateur and I always come back when I need to work on my game or if I need to stay competitive.
‘On the plus side, should Asia not work out and if I don’t get the automatic Big Easy qualification, a top-five finish in the Race to Q-School standings will get me straight into the Sunshine Tour’s Final Stage Qualifier, so there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.’
By Lali Stander