Alex Haindl relished every step of his round on Friday as he moved to the top of the second-round leaderboard in the R700,000 Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Arabella Country Estate.
He carded a six-under-par 66 to move to eight-under for the tournament and a two-stroke lead over first-round leader Neil Schietekat. And, since his fine share of 10th in the Joburg Open, it’s only his second cut made in a year that looked as if it might be lost to the back surgery he had last year.
‘It’s a great round,’ he smiled. ‘I felt pretty good out there all day. This golf course is so tough, you’ve just got to hang in there the whole day, so anything under 70 is great. I felt in a good place mentally, and just being comfortable out there helps.’
He must have felt frustrated initially: After a birdie on the first, he made back-to-back bogeys on the next two holes. But things quickly clicked into gear, with three birdies and an eagle on his way to the turn, and then two more on his way in saw him grab the lead ahead of the cut.
For one of the hardest working players on the Sunshine Tour, it has been a tough road. ‘Since my back surgery last year, it’s been really hard getting back,’ he said. ‘The first three or four months back, I had one or two good events. It was hard to get back in there. It was hard to go out and trust my body again – just trust that I could play the way I used to play.
‘I had four months when I couldn’t touch a club at all. I was in bed for three or four months after my surgery, and that was really tough. Before the surgery, I had quite a stretch that I was out as well. So it was almost like trying to learn to swing again. Now it’s great. It feels good and I’ve been working really hard in the gym. It looks like it’s coming together.
‘It’s almost like giving myself a new baseline to start working from. I got to the stage during 2013, 2014 and 2015 where I couldn’t play for more than a week at a time. There even stages when I would walk 200 metres and that was me done – I was in too much pain.
‘After the surgery, I haven’t had the pain again. And I can start working really hard again the way I want to, not having to be scared of that flinch when the pain comes,’ he added.
Behind him, Schietekat had slipped to two-over for his round after 12 holes, but he pulled things back on track with three birdies in his final six holes to slip into second. Christiaan Bezuidenhout was on third on five-under, while Keith Horne and Jaco Ahlers shared fourth on four-under.
But it will be all eyes on Haindl in the final round, to see if he can play his way to a second Sunshine Tour title. It’s been over 10 years since he won his first and only one. ‘I’m sure I’m going to be a little bit nervous tomorrow – that’s natural,’ he said. ‘But I’m looking forward to it. I’m feeling comfortable so I’ll go out there and play the course and see what I can do.’