By Michael Vlismas
George, Western Cape… The watershed summer by South African golf’s young professional stars has certainly inspired the country’s top amateurs, with the number two-ranked James du Preez among those looking to make an impact in next week’s Sanlam SA Amateur at George Golf Club.
Photo Credit: South African Golf Association
Du Preez will take the confidence of his impressive start to the year and the experience of playing alongside the professionals on the European Tour into next week’s amateur showpiece.
The Pretoria golfer has risen to number two on the South African Golf Association’s (SAGA) national rankings and will definitely have one of the country’s most prestigious amateur titles in his sights when the 36-hole qualifying tournament tees off this Sunday.
Du Preez teed off his year with a finish of tied second in January’s Free State Open and followed this with finishes of tied ninth in the Gauteng Open and fourth in the South African Stroke Play Championship.
He also teed it up alongside the Sunshine Tour and European Tour professionals in the Joburg Open. Although he missed the halfway cut here the self-belief he gained was priceless.
“I’ve practised and played with guys like Brandon Stone, Haydn Porteous, Zander Lombard and Christiaan Bezuidenhout since I was nine years old. Seeing them compete and win on the bigger stage makes you stop second-guessing yourself because you know you’re also good enough.
“At the Joburg Open I thought I’d be more nervous but I actually felt very comfortable. That was a good sign of things to come. The big thing I learnt is that I don’t have to change my game that much to compete with the pros on the European Tour. It’s just the consistency factor. The margin of error is a lot smaller than I’m used to. But it was very important to me that I felt that I belong there and my game is good enough to compete,” he said.
This confidence combined with the good memories of his victory in last year’s Cape Province Amateur Open at George Golf Club will make Du Preez a favourite for the title in a year in which the tall amateur has a point to prove after struggling with back problems the last few years.
“For the past three years I’ve been plagued by injury, especially the first six months of last year. So this season my main objective is to be healthy and to play a full season. If I can play a full season where I’m fit then that would be a massive step in the right direction for me.
“I know it’s not a question of my game. If I stay fit I play well. So if I can practice and play consistently in tournaments then it will be a very important season for me. My back is being managed well and I think it’s only going to get better.”
The field includes seven of the top 10 amateurs in the country, led by South African number one Tristen Strydom, who was knocked out in the first round last year.
Jovan Rebula is also back after losing last year’s final to Scotland’s Daniel Young. Young will not defend his title as he has since turned professional. But fellow Scot Calum Fyfe, who made it through to the semi-finals last year, is in the field.
The competitive grounding that the Sanlam SA Amateur gives the country’s young golfers was nowhere more evident than over the past month-and-a-half.
The victories by Stone and Porteous in the South African Open and Joburg Open respectively, and the runners-up finishes in each of Bezuidenhout and Lombard is a direct reflection of this investment in amateur golf.
It’s an investment that stretches to Sanlam’s support for the country’s top junior golfers in the Glacier Junior Series, the Sanlam Cancer Challenge as South African golf’s biggest charity drive for the Cancer Association of South Africa, and support of top-flight women’s amateur golf through the Sanlam SA Women’s Amateur.