The journey to secure a place on the Sunshine Tour teed off for many prospective touring professionals this week with the first round of the first stage of the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School at Maccauvlei Golf Club on Monday.
American Thomas Longbella and South African amateur Sean Cronje led the scoring on day one with rounds of five-under-par 67. Longbella’s round included a hole-in-one on the par-three 16th.
“I’ve just bought my playing group some drinks,” Longbella said after the round. “I wasn’t hitting my 9-iron well all day. On the 16th tee my caddie said, ‘C’mon, give me a 9-iron in the grooves’ and I was like, ‘Sure, I’d love to do that. I’ve been trying all day’. And then I absolutely flushed it. It pitched 10 feet past the hole and then trickled back in. It was a good day.”
Longbella said his decision to come out to South Africa and enter the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School was based on watching Erik van Rooyen’s progress on the PGA Tour.
“Just watching Erik convinced me that the Sunshine Tour is a good place to come and play.”
Longbella and Cronje lead by one over the South African trio of Rigardt Albertse, brother of Sunshine Tour professional Louis Albertse, Dylan O’Leary and amateur Christopher Long.
Albertse was delighted with his start.
“It went very well. I was very good from the tee, had a few loose iron shots and then was very good with my short game,” said the man who is making his second attempt at the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School, and who has the benefit of some inside knowledge thanks to his brother.
“Thanks to Louis, I have a good idea of what life on the Sunshine Tour is all about. It’s a dream of mine to play on the Sunshine Tour.”
Long was equally pleased to make such a good start to a week which he sees as playing a vital role in his future aspirations.
“When you look at the likes of Garrick Higgo, Louis Oosthuizen and so many others, they all started here on the Sunshine Tour. This is a great foundation and that’s the plan for me.”
The Tour’s Qualifying School has drawn a field of professionals and amateurs from South Africa as well as England, Germany, the United States, Austria, South Korea, Switzerland, Reunion, Zimbabwe, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.
The first stage finishes on Thursday. Only the top 40 professionals and ties will progress to the final stage.