Malcolm Mitchell and Wilco Nienaber went six under in the final round of the Eisenhower Trophy to seal a top 30 finish for South Africa in the 2018 World Amateur Team Championship in Ireland on Saturday.
After a spate of setbacks in the first two rounds, Nienaber and Matt Saulez got the team back on track with a nine-under 137 in round three. South Africa then started the final round at the Montgomerie Course at Carton House on five under.
Mitchell led the attack with a four-under-par 68 and Nienaber returned a two-under 70 to close out their campaign with an 11-under-par 569 team total and 30th overall in the 72-strong field that teed it up the prestigious biennial championship in County Kildare.
Denmark edged out the United States by one stroke to claim their first championship victory.
Twins Nicolai and Rasmus Hojgaard combined to produce a 13-under final round to seal victory for the Danes on 39-under-par 541. Spain took third on 36-under 544 and overnight leaders New Zealand finished fourth overall a further stroke adrift.
Mitchell was first up on the last day. The KwaZulu-Natal golfer birdied the 2nd and cancelled bogeys at the 5th and 7th with further gains at the 6th, 8th and 9th to turn two under. He dropped another shot at the 12th, but rallied with a birdie-birdie finish for 68.
‘It was the first day my body felt really good after the stomach upset, and everything just flowed,’ said the Kloof Country Club golfer. ‘The tee at the 2nd was moved forward and I made a great short-side birdie to get the round going. I had a silly bogey at 5th, but a good drive and wedge-shot to kick-in distance at 6th got me back to one under.
‘I’m so honoured that I got to wear the green and gold for South Africa here in Ireland. It felt really good to put a score on the board, and to make a contribution to the team total.’
Nienaber had a lot of chances, but battled a balky putter.
‘It was a very frustrating round. I hit a few poor shots, but loads of good shots and I putted so well, but they just wouldn’t drop. This was an amazing experience, though, and given the chance, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.’
Saulez, who anchored the side during the first two rounds, also had a maddening final day. He signed off with an even-par 72.
‘The word for today was frustration,’ said the KwaZulu-Natal golfer. ‘I had three bogeys going out at 3rd, 5th and 6th. At the 9th, I hit a 3-iron off the tee and sand-wedge from 110 yards to two feet and holed the putt to turn things around.
‘All in all, a tough week for everyone involved with Jovan [Rebula] withdrawing and Malcolm getting sick. It wasn’t the week we wanted, but it was awesome to be involved in this amazing championship.
‘I want to thank GolfRSA and SAGA for everything that they did for us leading up to the Eisenhower Trophy and all they did for all of us this week, especially our two great managers Eden [Thompson] and Gavin [Groves] – the week wouldn’t have been the same without them here.’
Non-playing captain Thompson said he was impressed with the way all four players handled themselves during the championship.
‘I cannot stress enough how proud we are of the guys and the way they came through all the adversity thrown at them this week,’ Thompson said. ‘The guys not only battled the demons of the courses and the various setbacks, but their own games, too.
‘Today was another tough one and we were really pleased for Malcolm. Having been rushed to Ireland and then going down with the stomach issue, we were seriously contemplating playing the championship with two players only, because he was so ill. We didn’t believe he would recover quick enough to play.
PHOTO: Nienaber, Mitchell and Saulez in Ireland, by GolfRSA