Veteran South African golfer Nic Henning has been tearing his hair out over the last few years as his game has steadily declined and then suddenly, out of the blue, came a record-equaling nine-under-par 62 yesterday in the first round of the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
The 45-year-old Henning, the nephew of Harold, turned pro in 1992 and finished in the top 10 on the order of merit in 1997/98, 1999/2000 and 2004/5, but there have been many lean years since then and the last time he was in the top 100 on the money-list was back in 2009.
“The last couple of years I’ve been playing horrible golf and you can see that in my results. I have no idea where today’s round came from, but I’ve been playing a lot recently and it feels fantastic, it’s been a long time since I’ve had such a good round,” Henning said after the best round in his lengthy pro career.
There were seven birdies and an eagle in Henning’s round, which equalled the West Course record set by fellow South African Desvonde Botes in 2007, and he went out in a phenomenal 29 strokes.
“My iron play was really good today, the best it’s been for many years, and I got off to a flyer to settle the nerves with birdies on the first two holes and then the eagle on the third when I hit a seven-iron from 169 metres exactly as I wanted to and it went in the hole!” Henning explained.
There are three golfers one stroke behind Henning on eight-under – fellow South African veterans Titch Moore and Tjaart van der Walt, as well as Thomas Pieters from Belgium.
Dean Burmester, Garth Mulroy and Australian Jason Scrivener are on seven-under, while another seasoned local, Wallie Coetsee, had the best round on the tougher East Course and is in the group on six-under.
Henning has been through the mills in recent years and his amazing round on Thursday was perhaps reward for his determination to keep going.
“You’ve just got to keep on going, fortunately I did well enough earlier in my career to qualify for this tournament through the career money-list, because pre-qualifying, which I had to do a couple of years ago, is really hit-and-miss. But you’ve got to just keep grinding away and believing you can do it,” Henning said.
It was either feast or famine for newly-announced European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke as he collected six birdies, two double-bogeys and two bogeys on his way to a level-par 72 on the East Course, while defending champion George Coetzee was in touch with the leaders after a five-under-par 66 on the West Course.
Thomas Aiken is in the same group after a 67 on the East Course, while two-time champion Richard Sterne is in a tie for 43rd after a 69.
Moore made an incredible start, going five-under-par through five holes after a hole-in-one on the very short 98m par-three.
“I got off to a nice start and was a couple-under. I got up to the fifth and it was a perfect yardage for my 58-degree wedge, I pitched it a little behind the flag and it spun in. It never looked like it was going to miss. To make a one on the card is always special. It was awesome,” Moore said.