Neil Schietekat took an early clubhouse lead on day one of the Investec Royal Swazi Open thanks to an impressive 16 stableford point round, however he was joined later in the day by Daniel Greene and Divan van den Heever, who both formed part of the afternoon field at Royal Swazi Spa Country Club.
The Investec Royal Swazi Open is played using a modified stableford points format in which players are awarded and deducted points for their scores relative to par on each hole. The point’s breakdown favours aggressive golf as players are awarded eight points for an albatross, five points for an eagle, and two points for a birdie. Zero points are awarded for par, while one point is deducted for a bogey and three points are deducted for a double-bogey or worse.
Schietekat made one bogey on his way around the challenging layout, which is famed for being one of the most undulating courses on the calendar. ‘I hit it close on the first (his 10th hole) and that was a tap-in birdie and I don’t think I was outside 10-foot on the next couple of holes, but I didn’t make a birdie, so it was getting quite frustrating. Then I got a lucky break on the par-five and made birdie there and just kind of rode it in from there,’ he explained.
Even though the course provides a true test of elevation changes, players are often left with little more than a wedge into the greens.
‘You know I’m struggling with the longer iron shots, but that not what you need out here. You need to hit the driver well and wedge it pretty close and putt well. It feels like I’m doing those things pretty well,’ Schietekat said.
Along with the elevation changes, players have to deal with gusty winds that made play difficult to contend with. ‘With the wind swirling, if you can play the par-three’s in level-par the whole week, you’re going to be pretty good. Yeah so the wind swirls, the ball really runs on the fairways and the greens are probably the best I’ve ever seen them. I’ve played here for 10 years now and it’s by far the best I’ve ever seen them. If you can sort those par-three’s out with the wind swirling then you’re golden,’ he said.
Van den Heever turned with nine points to his name thanks to some luck at the eighth hole. ‘I got really lucky on eight. I hit a bad drive to the right and had to hit a gap wedge over the trees and somehow it went in the hole. It’s something I haven’t seen in a while,’ he said.
With the format favouring the aggressive play, van den Heever said they course sets up perfectly for an extre.a-aggressive style of play. ‘You’ve got to go for it. It suites this golf course. There isn’t too much mid to long-iron play. There are a lot of drivers and wedges, but its short course with a lot of driver-wedge play,’ he explained.
Greene, whose name has been close to the top of the leaderboard in recent weeks, agreed with Schietekat about the conditions at Royal Swazi Spa Country Club. ‘The elevations are tricky. You’ve just got to trust the elevations and just hit it,’ he explained.
However, Greene says he isn’t focused on the leaderboard. For him, the pressure of tournament golf has taken a backseat as he is preparing to tie the knot next week. ‘My mind isn’t really focused on the leaderboard. I’m getting married next week so my mind is off the golf course and I’m just playing and just seeing what happens,’ he said.
Although the course looks intimidating due to the elevation changes, the scoring on day one of the Royal Swazi Open was lower than it has been in previous years. Greene said, ‘If your short irons are good during the week and you are hitting it nicely – the greens are rolling nicely- so yeah the scoring could be lower than it’s been previously. You’ve just got to be good with your short irons and you’ll be alright.’
For Greene, a mind away from golf may do well come a tight weekend finish. ‘Maybe not thinking about it helps, we’ll see,’ he said jokingly.