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Pickering picks his way to Sanlam SA Amateur lead

19 Feb 2017

Slade Pickering; credit Michael Sheehan.

Slade Pickering went on a birdie barrage down the back nine at Humewood Golf Club to lead Sunday’s first round of the 36-hole stroke play qualifier the 2017 Sanlam South African Amateur Championship in Port Elizabeth.

The North West junior fired a flawless nine-under-par 63 to open up a one shot lead over Pierre Pinaeu from France and he holds a two shot advantage over Chris Woollam from KwaZulu-Natal and Frenchman Anthoine Auboin.

Swiss golfer Robert Foley and English duo Dan Brown and Joseph Long tied for fifth on six under.

Malcolm Mitchell from KwaZulu-Natal continued his good form with a 67 to join local favourite Naldo Claassen and Southern Cape pair Andre Nel and Henk Geldenhuys in the bus at five under alongside Liam Johnstone from Scotland, Dimitri Mary from France and Swiss golfer Loris Schuepbach, a semi-finalist last year.

Woollam made the most of an early start to set the clubhouse target at seven under, but he was replaced by Pineau, who mixed eagles at the par five 11th and par five 17th with seven birdies for his 64. Auboin also made a run for the lead, but a triple bogey seven at 13 put the brakes on his effort. The Frenchman recovered quickly with a quartet of birdies from 14 to sign for a 65.

Then Pickering pushed his way past everyone in the late afternoon.

The 18-year-old Pecanwood golfer notched birdies at five and seven and dipped deeper into red numbers with a string of four birdies from the ninth. A trio of gains at 15, 16 and 17 saw him power his way to the top of the pile.

Pickering was left frustrated after disappointing results in the recent SA Stroke Play and Sanlam Cape Province Open, but some hard graft paid handsome rewards at Humewood.

“I hit too many errand tee shots in George that cost me in both tournaments, so I worked really hard on my tee shots to prepare for this week,” he said.

“I was so pleased with my swing today. I only missed two fairways and not by much, so there is definitely a lot of improvement. And I hit 17 greens. That set up a lot of birdie chances and the putter did the rest.”

The lad from North West showed his ability to go really low with back-to-back titles on the junior circuit late last year and early in the new season.

He fired an opening 64 at the East Course on his way to victory in the Joburg Junior Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington in December and in January, Pickering shot a second round 63 at Benoni Country Club to win the Nomads National Order of Merit Inland.

The stroke play qualifying is very different from the main match play section of the tournament, but a top 10 spot in the B-Section Most Valued Players list during the South African Junior Inter-Provincial Championship in December should give Pickering a lot of confidence for the knock-out stages.

However, the early presence of a large group of foreigners chasing his tail has not gone unnoticed.

“The leaderboard is incredibly tight,” he said. “There was very little wind today, and the guys took advantage. There are a lot of great players chasing me and it will take another really great round to finish front. But I’m not going to focus on winning. I just want to try to make the best score I can on every hole so I can secure a start in the match play. That’s when the real championship begins.”

Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of Golf RSA, a SAGA and WGSA Not-For-Profit company.

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