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SA players set for foreign invasion in George

06 Feb 2017

Kyle McClatchie; credit Ernest Blignault

South Africa’s top amateurs are ready to take on a wave of international players when the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship gets underway at Kingswood Golf Estate in George on Tuesday.

Golf RSA National Squad member Kyle McClatchie will lead the local challenge in the 144-strong field that features 45 top ranked golfers from Scotland, England, Sweden, Ireland, France, Switzerland and the highly-rated Khaled Attieh from Saudi Arabia.

“I believe this is the biggest international field we’ve had at the SA Stroke Play Championship,” said McClatchie. “It’s awesome for South African amateur golf, because it raises the status of the SA Stroke Play and gives us quality international competition. But let’s not kid ourselves, we are going to have a tough time on our hands against the foreign invasion.”

Since Dale Hayes won the first two editions in 1969 and 1970, only a handful of international campaigners lifted the prestigious trophy, including Yuan Ching Chi (1981), Wen-Sheng Li (1982) and C-S Hsieh (1986) of China, Ireland’s Ciaran McMonagle in 1982 and Gary Wolstenholme of England in 2002.

Yet – while the South Africans outnumber the international line-up four-to-one – the trophy went the way of international winners in the last two championships.

Ugo Coussaud from France defeated local hope claimed a three stroke victory over local hope Rupert Kaminski in 2015 and last year, Irishman Jack Hume edged out former champion Jason Smith and compatriot Stuart Grehan at Blue Valley.

There were a further five international contenders in the top 10 at Port Elizabeth Golf Club two years ago and five Scotsman featured in the top 10 at Blue Valley. McClatchie believes the links-style layout on the Garden Route will deliver another tightly contested battle between the local and international players over the next four days.

“We must take the international players seriously and we can’t afford to get comfortable at a course like Kingswood,” he said. “If the wind gets up, the British players will be smiling, so if we are serious about producing a South African champion, we will have to go deep and low this week.”

McClatchie knows his own performance will be keenly watched after he rocketed to third in the South African Golf Association’s Open Amateur rankings following a superb 2016 season.

The most-improved male amateur in South Africa in 2016, McClatchie reeled in four victories to complement a slew of top 10 finishes. In addition to a runner-up finish on the Big Easy Tour and a maiden win on the IGT Tour, the 19-year-old from Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate also impressed abroad.

He notched top 10 finishes in the Scottish and French Amateur Championships and victory in the 36-hole qualifier at the Argentine Amateur Championship in December after he partnered Aubrey Beckley to a top five finish for South Africa in the Juan Carlos Tailhade Cup.

With two of South Africa’s top ranked players away at college in the United States and three more not competing this week, there is a fair bit of pressure on McClatchie and fellow GolfRSA National Squad players Smith, Marco Steyn, Garrick Higgo and Luca Filippi, who round out the South African Golf Association’s top 10 in George.

“The course is in unbelievably good condition and the greens are running fast and true, but with the links layout we won’t have the advantage,” McClatchie said.

“There is only one way to play here and that is to shut yourself off from expectations. What I mean is that you have to play shot for shot, day by day and forget about winning on Friday. Just play the course hole-by-hole and try to put the best score possible together.  The other thing to remember is that yours is the only score you can control, so don’t waste energy worrying or watching the rest of the field.”

Reigning Sanlam SA Amateur champion Craig Ross, who is hunting the elusive double, leads the Scottish posse, while last year’s joint runner-up Grehan and compatriot Naill Kearney, who reached the final stage of the Asian Tour Qualifying School in January, are among the Irish contenders. Edgar Catherine, who lost the Orange Bowl Junior Championship in a play-off in December, is also among the French entries.

The South African Stroke Play Championship will be contested over 72 holes, and the field of 144 will be cut to 65 and ties after 36 holes.

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