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Nienaber wins qualifier in Scotland

Nienaber

Bobby Cole is the one and only South African winner in the 123-year history of the Amateur Championship, but South Africa’s leading amateur Wilco Nienaber wrote his own bit of history when he won the strokeplay qualifier in Scotland this week.

The 18-year-old GolfRSA National Squad player became the first South African medallist since qualifying was introduced in 1983 when he beat world No 5 Victor Hovland from Norway by two strokes in the 123rd edition at Royal Aberdeen.

A 12-time winner in 2017, Nienaber vaulted to No 1 after his third-place finish in the South African Stroke Play Championship.

He bagged two victories at home this season and came agonisingly close to a third international title when he lost in a playoff at the Brabazon Trophy.

Nienaber led the 288-strong field with a first-round four-under 66 at the Murcar Links and went wire-to-wire with a four-under 67 at Royal Aberdeen to triumph on eight-under 133.

And the Bloemfontein golfer will not be the lone South African to start the matchplay stage on Wednesday. Nienaber will be joined by Matt Saulez (fourth), Malcolm Mitchell (tied for ninth) with trio Jovan Rebula, Therion Nel and Luca Filippi all progressing as part of the 64.

The plus-5 handicapper has been warming up for amateur golf’s showpiece since he teed it up in the Lytham Trophy in early May with fellow teammates Saulez and Mitchell.

‘After Lytham, we joined some more GolfRSA National Squad players, including Therion, at the Irish Amateur,’ said Nienaber. ‘Over the last six weeks, we played a lot of courses and championships in Ireland, England and Scotland. Jovan and Luca joined us at the St Andrews Links Trophy, which was our final preparation. There have been some tough weeks, but it has been a fantastic learning curve.

‘We have links courses back home, but it’s not links golf like this. I’ve learned it’s a different game over here. Back home, if it’s 180 metres, you fly it straight there. Here, if it’s 180 metres, you to hit it 20 metres shorter and let it bounce in.’

His growing understanding of links golf was reflected in his performance this week.

‘When I heard that the GolfRSA National Squad was going to play The Amateur Championship this year, I was really excited,’ said Nienaber.

‘To finish at the top in the qualifying is great.

‘I made good decisions from the tee, stuck to my game plan and hit the greens on both days. I hit the ball really nicely. I wasn’t really in trouble off the tee and didn’t miss a lot of greens on both days. When I missed greens, I got up-and-down 90% of the time.

‘I kept the momentum going and didn’t really make a lot of bogeys. The matchplay stage is a different game, but winning this or finishing at the top makes me feel like I can beat the other guys, which is really nice. Bobby Cole was 18 when he won in 1966, so hopefully it’s a lucky number.’

Christo Lamprecht, Clayton Mansfield, Jayden Schaper and Garrick Higgo all missed the cut.

Canadian Sam Meek took third, the Australian pair of Kyle Michel and Blake Collyer finished a shot behind Saulez alongside leading English qualifier Harry Hall.

Scotland’s Euan McIntosh tied St Andrews Links Trophy champion John Murphy from Ireland on two over and other internationals to reach the knockout stages include New Zealand No 1 Daniel Hillier, Spanish duo Victor Pastor and Pablo Rodriquez-Tabernero Torres and three of the 23 Americans in the starting lineup, led by Blake Wagoner.

Photo: South Africa’s top three ranked amateurs (left to right) Wilco Nienaber, Matt Saulez and Malcolm Mitchell reached the match play stage of the 123rd Amateur Championship with top 10 finishes in the stroke play qualifier at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland; by GolfRSA


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