Seven of South Africa’s top amateur talents will peg it up in the Investec South African Open at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate on Thursday.
The amateur challenge includes world No 1 and reigning Amateur champion Christo Lamprecht, last year’s leading amateur Christiaan Maas, and Altin van der Merwe, Dan Bennett, Jordan Burnand – respectively ranked first, second and third on the GolfRSA Open Amateur Rankings.
Ivan Verster and Keagan Crosbie join the quintet, having played their way into the DP World Tour and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned showpiece via the qualifiers on Tuesday.
The amateurs will join an exciting line-up that includes defending champion Thriston Lawrence, former winners Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Daniel van Tonder, Hennie Otto, Brandon Stone and England’s Andy Sullivan, last week’s Joburg Open champion Dean Burmester and a bevy of top European and Sunshine Tour challengers.
While the amateurs will not be eligible for any part of the $1.5-million prizemoney on offer, there is more than just pride on the line in the DP World and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event.
The prestigious Freddie Tait Cup beckons for the highest-placed amateur who survives the 36-hole cut and these seven young men need no further encouragement to step up to claim their place in SA Open history.
Lamprecht has already etched his name in the SA golfing record books several times this year when he became the fourth South African to win the Amateur Championship, the first amateur from this country to win the Silver Medal as the leading amateur in The Open Championship and the first South African to reach the summit of the Official World Amateur Golf Rankings.
The Georgia Tech senior hopes to extend his dream season at Blair Atholl in his first start on home soil since 2020.
“This is my fifth stab at the Freddie Tait Cup, and this year I back myself, because I have the experience and confidence coming into the tournament,” Lamprecht said. “It would be great to put an exclamation point on an unbelievable year, but there are 72 holes ahead and a lot of work to be done.
“This course is a great test; there are some holes where you can fire for birdies, but a couple that can trip you up. You’ll have to play strategically and pick your shots carefully, but there is some great risk and reward out there.”
Maas lifted the Freddie Tait Cup in his second attempt last year, courtesy of a 35th-place finish.
The Pretoria golfer is targeting successive wins, and if he succeeds, he will become the fourth amateur since the Freddie Tait Cup was introduced in 1929, and the first in 61 years to go back-to-back.
Barry Franklin was the last to win successive cups, triumphing in 1961 at East London Golf Club and following it up with the low amateur honours at Houghton Golf Club in 1962. The other two players to achieve this milestone were Reg Taylor (1954, East London Golf Club and 1955, Zwartkop Country Club), and Jimmy Boyd (1950, Durban Country Club and 1951, Royal Cape Golf Club).
“I would probably have to beat Christo to do it,” said the Texas University student. “He is playing unbelievable golf at the moment and it would be something special to beat him in the SA Open.
“It’s going to be a little tougher this year. The greens are as firm and fast as last year, and they are running beautifully, but the fairways are softer and greener. You don’t get as much run, so you are going to have to hit a lot more longer irons in. The rough is also higher this year. I think ball control, positioning and patience will be key to low scoring rounds for me.”
Verster also makes his second start after winning one of the three qualifying events.
Among the 441 hopefuls who battled it out for just 16 qualifying spots in the world-class field, Verster fired an eight-under-par 64 that featured two eagles and five birdies to top the leaderboard in the qualifier at Irene Country Club.
The Southern Cape golfer comes into the event after a strong showing in Argentina this November, where he partnered Burnand to a fourth-place finish in the Copa Tailhade and finished 10th in the Argentine Amateur.
“I can’t think of a better way to finish off an incredible season,” said the GolfRSA No 6-ranked amateur. “My only goal is to make the weekend. Everything after that will be a bonus.”
For the rest, it will be a debut appearance in the SA Open.
Van der Merwe has been in red-hot form this season, racking up five provincial wins and impressing abroad with a runner-up finish in the Scottish Men’s Open, a 10th-place finish in the Brabazon Trophy and a tie for 12th in the St Andrews Links Trophy.
The 26-year-old also represented South Africa alongside Lamprecht and Maas in the Eisenhower Trophy in Abu Dhabi in October, where the trio secured South Africa’s best finish in the 33rd World Amateur Team Championship since 1982, with a seventh-place finish.
South Africa’s top ranked junior Bennett might be the youngest in the line-up, but the 18-year-old demonstrated his ability to go low when he won the 2023 Nomads SA Boys U19 Championship by 21 shots on 34 under par at Pecanwood.
Burnand has had a solid season at home with victory in the Border Stroke Play and a trio of top three finishes, but he also showcased his talent abroad with a fourth-place finish in the Scottish Men’s Open, and ninth place overall in the Argentine Amateur Championship.
The potential surprise packet in this year’s amateur line-up is pocket-rocket Crosbie.
Despite having to balance his matric academic commitments with golf, the 19-year-old won the North West Open and notched a couple of top five finishes. And eight birdies in the Irene qualifier for a six-under-par 66 and joint second will have delivered a timely confidence injection.
One thing is certain – whoever of the seven amateurs that conquers the Gary Player signature course at Blair Atholl this week deserves to join the former greats who have lifted the Freddie Tait Cup.