It was a lot more work than he expected, but the end result was exactly the one Clinton Grobler was hoping for. Having squandered the overnight lead early on, the 22-year-old rookie from Krugersdorp produced a career-defining performance in the final round of the IGT Tour’s Lake Club Challenge and celebrated a maiden pro victory with a sensational birdie on the second hole of a sudden-death play-off on Wednesday.
Earlier Pretoria amateur Ruan Conradie reeled in four birdies on the front nine and an eagle on the home stretch for a final round 67 to set the clubhouse target at The Lake Club Benoni, but Grobler produced a hard-fought for 73 to match the leading number.
After both players parred the first extra hole, Conradie smashed his tee shot down the centre of the fairway and parked a wedge 20 feet from the hole during his third trip down the 18th. Grobler opted for a two-iron off the tee, but his drive finished in the trees down the left fairway.
However, he had a clear view of the green and he hit a six-iron with superb precision to 15 feet. When Conradie’s birdie putt finished short of the hole, Grobler drained a glorious 15-foot birdie putt to seal the win.
‘It could have a different result if Ruan’s birdie putt rolled a few centimetres further,’ Grobler said. ‘I think it’s pretty ironic that I nearly didn’t enter this week’s event because I’ve been putting so poorly in the last six weeks.
‘In fact, it was after 10 pm on Saturday when I finally entered online. I just had a feeling that I should play, so I switched putters this week .Next thing, I am leading after two rounds and then I box the putt that mattered the most to win.’
Grobler a two shot cushion at six under at the start of the final round, but he plummeted past his challengers with a bogey at the second and four successive drops from the fourth. He pencilled in a lone birdie at the eighth, but after a bogey at nine, he was well off the pace at one under.
Meanwhile Duane Keun and Martin Rohwer, who started in joint second, also backpedalled and control went to Conradie, who birdied two, four, six and eight to turn four under.
‘Before we teed off this morning, I called my girlfriend Chantelle (van Niekerk) and told her I was super nervous,’ said Grobler. ‘She told me to relax, that I’ve got this and I was thinking about that when I walked to the 10th tee. When I spotted my dad down the 10th fairway, I just settled down. My dad hasn’t been out to watch me for years, so it was pretty great to have him there in support.’
Grobler rallied with a trio of birdies to join Conradie in the lead, while Keun pulled one shot ahead with a pair of birdies at 10 and 11.
‘Suddenly there were three of us fighting for the win,” Grobler said. “I hit another poor tee shot at 13 and dropped a shot and Ruan bogeyed 14, but we both made eagle at 15 to get to five under. Deane birdied 15, so he had a one-shot lead playing the last three holes.’
Conradie parred his way home to set the target at five under, and Grobler unexpectedly found himself in a playoff when his playing partner bogeyed the last two holes.
‘I wasn’t really nervous playing the extra holes,’ Grobler said. ‘All I could think about was my girlfriend, my parents, my sister, Ruan de Smidt, who mentors me; there are all these people who believe I have what it takes and I didn’t want to let them down.
‘I managed to keep my mind blank during the playoff, but the emotion hit me when I sunk that winning putt and saw my dad standing there smiling at me. This means the world me. Every time I hit a bad run, this victory will remind that you never give up.’
By Lali Stander
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs are indicated as AMA:
211 – Clinton Grobler 67 71 73
211 – Ruan Conradie AMA 71 73 67
212 – Duane Keun 70 70 72
215 – Martin Rohwer 65 75 75
216 – Kyle Barker AMA 73 71 72