Jonathan Waschefort watched enough editions of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in his lifetime to know that you don’t tackle the iconic Gary Player Country Club at Sun City without a healthy dose of respect.
The 26-year-old Pretoria golfer employed a reverse strategy – working backwards from the greens to find the best angles out of the tight fairways into the small targets – and carefully plotted his way to a two-shot lead in the opening round of the IGT Tour’s Race to Q-School #10 on Monday.
The fact that his two-under-par 70 was the only sub-par round of the day demonstrated a sound strategy, but Waschefort knows the fight is far from over.
He has Damian Naicker, Triston Strydom, Russel Franz and Francois Coetzee right on his tail, but the Wanna Be A Champion Academy player says they don’t scare him half as much as the course.
‘You watch the pros during the Nedbank Golf Challenge and you can see the course is tight, the rough is thick and the greens are small, but they shoot 64s and 65s and you wonder just how tough can it really be until you face that first tee shot,’ he said.
‘The landing area at the first is the widest on the whole course and it’s terrifying. The fairways are incredibly tight. A two-foot miss lands you in molasses and you are facing a plugged lie. If you get it out of there and you miss the green, it’s not a question of a bogey, but how many shots over par.’
Waschefort hit just five fairways in regulation, but solid irons and stunning chip-shots saved his round.
‘I hit a lot of greens, birdied three of the four par fives and I saved myself with great chips at the two short holes, seven and 12,’ he said.
‘At seven, I missed the green, but my chip landed three feet from the pin and I made the par putt. At 12, I parked the tee shot in the middle of the waste bunker, but another great chip set up another par.
‘It was great to put some red numbers on the card after my second bogey at 11. I hit a great drive down 14 and the five-iron approach landed just left of the green. I chipped it to six feet and made the birdie putt and that kicked up my confidence. I split the fairway at 15 and hit a gap wedge from 125 metres to three feet and made that birdie, too, to get to two under.
‘One thing I learned from this round is that you cannot let your focus slip from the first tee shot till the last putt drops. You have to strategise your game plan and then you have to keep your head in the game, because this course gives, but it takes away even quicker.’
Naicker – a four-time winner this season and the current Race to Q-School leader – offset three bogeys with three birdies and Irene Challenge champion Strydom wiped out a seven at the par-four 13th with a trio of gains. Franz from Pretoria was two under before a double bogey at 17.
Fellow Sunshine Tour player Coetzee took the biggest hit, though.
The Wingate Park golfer birdied two, three, seven and eight, but an eight at the par-five ninth spoiled a superb front nine. He dropped further shots at 12 and 16, but sealed his share of second with a birdie-par finish.
Eagle Canyon’s David McIntyre leads the 56-strong amateur contingent in the field of 102 players contesting the final event on the 2016 IGT Tour.
The State Mines Race to Q-School #3 winner posted a one over 73 to tie for sixth, with Aubrey Beckley from Potchefstroom and Paul Boshoff from Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate a further shot back in joint 10th.
By Lali Stander
First Round Scores
70 – Jonathan Waschefort
72 – Damian Naicker, Russel Franz, Tristen Strydom, Francois Coetzee
73 – Wayne du Toit, NJ Arnoldi, David McIntyre AMA, Pieter Moolman