Oliver Bekker will take a three-stroke lead into Saturday’s third round of the South African Open at the Gary Player Country Club.
In May this year, Bekker embarked on an uncertain journey that kept him away from home for months on end and took him through incredible highs and a few lows. At the end of it, he was rewarded with a DP World Tour card. This weekend at Sun City, it could get even better for the Stellenbosch golfer.
On Friday, a typically hot day in the Pilanesberg, he signed for a 67 underpinned by a strong back nine which he finished with three birdies in his last five holes. That lifted him to 12 under par overall.
Behind him, good friend Justin Harding signed for a 67 while Neil Schietekat added a 70 to see them well placed on nine under. And the trio of Daniel van Tonder, Hennie du Plessis and Lyle Rowe are five shots off the lead.
But if this year has taught Bekker anything, it’s that he needs to spend his time looking forward and not putting pressure on himself.
“I think that’s why this year I’ve played the way I’ve played, because I haven’t put myself under pressure,” he said. “With every round I play, I just try and shoot under par – whether it’s one under or two under doesn’t matter. I just want to shoot under par. That’s my goal. I’ve been around long enough to know if you shoot under par every round you’re going to be up there at the end of the week.”
It’s a strategy that helped him get through a tricky front nine of swirling wind on this golf course.
“It was really tough, especially at the start of the round to just judge where the wind is coming from. It felt like you had about a five-second window to hit the ball before the wind direction changed again. It settled down a bit towards the back nine, and I made a few more birdies there. I chipped in twice which always helps.”
As much as Bekker wants to lift this trophy on Sunday, there’s a lot of desire behind him keen to do exactly the same.
“It’s the SA Open,” said Harding. “Every South African golfer wants to lift that trophy. I’ve seen a few of my mates lift it in the past. I missed it last year through injury so it hurt watching it from the couch. So I’m happy to have given myself a chance.”
And Schietekat is determined to keep enjoying every second of his time on a golf course he loves.
“That’s the aim. I’ve been working on that with my coach – just to have fun and enjoy myself. I’m in a good position.”