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Ken Borland

General consensus was Blair Atholl was a long, hard walk … but Lagergren had a fun day 0

Posted on November 30, 2023 by Ken

Joakim Lagergren while he was having fun in the first round of the SA Open at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate.
(Photo by Carl Fourie/Sunshine Tour)

The general consensus after the first round of the South African Open at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate on Thursday was that it was a very long walk indeed, but for leader Joakim Lagergren, it was a fun day, not spoiled at all by the 7.5km length of the course.

Golf being a good walk spoiled is, of course, one of the most famous quotes about the game, erroneously attributed to Mark Twain, one of the most misquoted people of all time. The phrase was first published in 1903, an aphorism that was seemingly used by many but belonged to nobody in particular.

But there was no spoiling Lagergren’s opening round in the second-oldest national open of them all, first played, co-incidentally, back in 1903. The Swede was rampant on Thursday, collecting seven birdies and not dropping a single shot on his way to a commanding 65 that gave him a one-stroke lead.

While others left the Gary Player designed course looking hot and bothered, the 32-year-old fronted the media smiling and looking fresh and buoyant, capable of perhaps doing a quick run around the front nine again.

“Golf was fun today,” Lagergren beamed, “I really enjoyed it. I told my caddy on the sixth that it was one of the longest par-threes I have ever seen at 240 yards and it was very rare to come in with a wedge on any of the par-fours. And there are huge greens, but luckily I putted well. I have been finding something with my putter after struggling for the last few weeks,” Lagergren said.

Andy Sullivan, the 2015 SA Open champion at Glendower, came in just before Lagergren, having also posted an excellent score, a five-under-par 67 that left him two shots behind.

He described it as a “long fucking walk” off camera but his sparkling wit was present as always.

“I’m not one of the longest hitters so the course didn’t particularly suit me, my strategy was just ‘hit the ball as hard as you can!’

“I know he is one of the fittest people alive, but I would love to see Mr Player walk around here, he might rethink his design a bit, it is definitely one of the most physically demanding courses I’ve played.

“There’s no warming down, it’s straight to Nandos and then prepare for tomorrow by resting,” Sullivan said.

The jovial Englishman employed the services of his accurate long-irons to share third place with two South Africans, Jovan Rebula and Louis de Jager, and said he is hoping a return to the Highveld, where he has a superb record, having also won the Joburg Open in 2015, will kickstart a much better season for him after two rough years.

“I got off to a really good start with three birdies in the first four holes and I holed a lot inside 12 feet today. It was actually more about control today, last week my mid to long irons were very good and they helped me out today again.

“I’ve struggled the last two seasons but I’ve managed to keep my card. I’ve tried something new by going back to Jamie Gough as coach and it feels like my game is there or thereabouts.

“I normally don’t play in December that much, but I felt it was important to get off to a good start this season, I have history here in Johannesburg and it’s a great place to start,” a more serious Sullivan said.

Highly-talented young South African Casey Jarvis is sandwiched between Lagergren and Sullivan et al after a wonderful round of 66 in the morning that did not lack for quality at all.

“I don’t hit the ball that long so I’ve got to drive the ball good. I also hit my long-irons pretty well. This course is a big mental challenge, especially the really long par-fours. You just have to try and stay patient,” Jarvis said.

A compatriot who showed quite extraordinary forbearance was Christiaan Bezuidenhout. He played superbly from tee-to-green, but missed a handful of putts from inside 10 feet that could have transformed his impressive 68 into a score of eight-under-par or so. By the back nine, where his only birdie came on the 12th, you could sense that inside he was starting to beg for a putt to just go in!

If that Bezuidenhout putter warms up on the second day, then the smart money might well be on the 2020 SA Open champion.

Lawrence not yet an expert at finishing, but temperament & skill enough to carry him to victory 0

Posted on April 06, 2023 by Ken

At just 26 years of age, Thriston Lawrence is not yet an expert at finishing off wins, but his temperament and skill were still enough to carry him to an exciting one-stroke victory in the South African Open at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate on Sunday.

Lawrence was leading by five shots with seven holes to play, but he let Frenchman Clement Sordet back into the contest with a horror run that saw him drop five shots between the 12th and 16th holes, including a double-bogey on the par-four 15th, when he hit his second into the river.

Sordet had now drawn level, having birdied the par-four 14th after a great approach shot to 12 feet. But the Challenge Tour graduate then blinked as he missed a six-foot putt for par on the penultimate hole, and then his drive on the par-five 18th went into the fairway bunker, meaning he had to lay up and couldn’t really put pressure on Lawrence.

The South African, who collected four birdies between the fourth and 10th holes, could afford to miss a three-foot birdie putt and still win by one.

“In a one-on-one like that, you need to make pars and not make mistakes, even when I was five ahead,” Lawrence said after his third DP World Tour win, all of them coming this year.

“Inside I’m not always calm, but it comes with experience, having been in that situation, and once you have won, it all adds up in terms of experience. It’s a big mental thing and I try to think of the present.

“So it was nice to see I managed to stay in the moment, even though I was nervous. I had been five ahead and I didn’t want to disappoint friends, family and sponsors. There was quite a lot of emotion walking up 18, it was a weird but good feeling.

“It’s never easy to win, it’s the toughest thing, but you teach yourself with experience. It felt easy in the middle of the round, but then golf happened and it was not the prettiest finish. But I just tried to stick to my game,” Lawrence said.

Starting the final round two strokes ahead of Sordet, Lawrence did not have the start he would have wanted as he bogeyed the first hole and Sordet pulled level with a birdie.

But an even bigger swing happened on the par-four fourth as Lawrence curled a superb approach shot to eight feet from the pin and made the birdie, while the 30-year-old Sordet found the fairway bunker and then hit his second out of bounds, leading to a double-bogey.

Suddenly Lawrence was three ahead and he extended that lead to five with another birdie on the fifth and back-to-back gains on nine and 10.

Pretoria Country Club’s Christian Maas claimed the Freddie Tait Cup for leading amateur as he finished on five-under-par. All five members of the GolfRSA squad who received invitations to the tournament made the cut, the first time this has happened in at least 30 years and exactly what the backers of the amateur programme would have wanted.

Lawrence loving the hearty challenge from Sordet 0

Posted on March 31, 2023 by Ken

Frenchman Clement Sordet provided a hearty challenge for leader Thriston Lawrence in the third round of the South African Open at Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate on Saturday, and the South African loved it, saying he was having the time of his life.

Lawrence began the third round with a two-shot lead over compatriot Ockie Strydom and was three ahead of Sordet. But the 26-year-old Lawrence had to produce an impressively mature five-under-par 67 on Saturday to maintain that lead as Sordet came charging with a brilliant 66.

Their contest was epitomised by the final hole as, with the sun setting over the Magaliesberg mountains, Sordet rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt to go to 16-under; moments later Lawrence nailed his 10-footer to close on 18-under-par.

“I’m definitely enjoying myself, when you’re playing well you have to,” Lawrence said. “I was very calm in the situations, even when you get a bit nervy and the adrenaline flows.

“From tee-to-green, I was hitting the ball awesome and then my putter just gave me that extra bit that made the difference. I was rolling the ball nicely, comfortable over the short ones and I managed to sink a few long ones which I had not been doing the last while.

“I’m having the time of my life and it will probably be a matchplay vibe between me and Clement in the final round, even though someone could come with a 10-under round,” Lawrence said.

Sordet, who is back on the DP World Tour after finishing 13th in the Challenge Tour last season, was also enjoying himself.

“It was a lot of fun, playing with really good guys in the last group. Thriston is a really good player, he played really well. We made a lot of birdies, all three of us.

“It’s going to be a challenge to catch Thriston tomorrow, but it’s great to be back in the final group, I’m looking forward to it on a course that suits my eye really well, I love it,” Sordet said.

Lawrence’s maturity was shown after he birdied three of his first five holes but then further gains were reduced to a dribble. A bogey on the par-four ninth, when he failed to get up-and-down from the greenside bunker, put him under pressure, but he stayed steady. His resolve was rewarded when he birdied the last two holes.

“It was tough because you feel the need to score. But I knew I was hitting the ball well, there were chances out there and I was putting well, so I just had to stay patient.

“It is tough but you have to keep telling yourself that it is just a matter of time,” Lawrence said.

Jens Fahrbring (69) of Sweden is the closest challenger to Lawrence and Sordet on 12-under.

It was a tough old day for Strydom, who birdied the last two holes to shoot 75, falling 10 shots off the pace, but Dean Burmester shot a 66 to keep his faint hopes alive on nine-under-par.

Blair Atholl the road less travelled, but Lawrence has been there before & equals his course record 0

Posted on March 14, 2023 by Ken

Playing the Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate course is the road less travelled for most of the South African Open field, but Thriston Lawrence has been there before and he equalled his course record on the massive Gary Player designed layout to top the leaderboard after the first round on Thursday.

The course has only hosted one professional event before – the Blair Atholl Championship in October 2021 – and Lawrence claimed the course record with a remarkable 64 in the final round that catapulted him into sixth place.

On Thursday he repeated that performance with another eight-under-par 64 to end the first day of the SA Open with a one-stroke lead. Lawrence, who won the rookie of the year award for the 2022 DP World Tour, birdied the second hole but then bogeyed the par-three third. From then on it was a cruise for the highly-promising 25-year-old as he gathered eight more birdies, five of them on the back nine.

The sheer length of the Blair Atholl course – at 7461 metres it is the longest in DP World Tour history – may be daunting for many in the field, but Lawrence enjoys the challenge.

“That was good fun,” Lawrence smiled after signing for his 64, “this course is quite familiar to me after I played the Sunshine Tour event here last year and I’m very happy to tie my course record from the final round then.

“I just tried to keep doing what I do, stick to the game-plan and be aggressive off the tee, and I hit good drives, my approach play was really great and I dropped a few putts today.

“It’s really long, but I like hitting full shots into the green, mid-to-long irons are my game. My long game is my strength and this course definitely suits me.

“It’s just good on the eye for me, the course just seems open for me and obviously I brought a bit of confidence today from that last round last year,” Lawrence said.

Englishman Ross Fisher, another of the longer hitters on tour, also went to town on the back nine, collecting five birdies as well, adding to the three birdies and a bogey, also on the third, he had on the front nine, to finish one behind Lawrence on seven-under. Fisher’s last DP World Tour win came at the 2014 Tshwane Open, which was played at Copperleaf, the previous longest-ever course in tour history, so that is a good omen for the 42-year-old.

Jens Fahrbring, the 38-year-old Swede, joined Fisher on seven-under with a superb bogey-free 65 as dusk settled over Lanseria.

Germany’s Matti Schmid held the clubhouse lead for much of the day with three eagles leading him to a six-under 66, where Scott Jamieson joined him late in the day, the Scot also going bogey-free. JJ Senekal also posted 66.

Luke Brown, who won the Blair Atholl Championship last year, parked himself on five-under with a 67 that also did not feature a single dropped shot. Spain’s Santiago Tarrio and Italian Edoardo Molinari also posted 67s, as did Northern Ireland’s Tom McKibbin, who made a hole-in-one on the 213-metre par-three 11th in just his second DP World Tour start.

South Africa’s Hennie du Plessis also registered an ace, on the par-three third hole.

Wilco Nienaber, perhaps the longest hitter of them all, also finished on five-under, offsetting a double-bogey five at the 17th with an eagle on the par-five closing hole.

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