It was only his eighth professional tournament, yet rookie Riekus Nortje blazed his way to a four-stroke victory at the Sunshine Big Easy Tour’s ERPM Golf Club tournament on Friday.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I’m sure tomorrow morning I will really get the feeling, although at this moment I’m very, very happy, especially taking my first win in my first year,” he said.
An opening 67 sparked the 21-year-old’s confidence, and he went on to shoot a second-round 68 and claim the first prize in the R100 000 event presented by Stonehage.
“Today I just kept my mind off things. I didn’t focus on how the other guys played, I just tried to play every shot the best I could. And that helped keep my mind off where I was lying,” he said.
Not that the Fancourt professional needed to worry – he led throughout the final round. And even though runner-up Thomas Lovett shot an impressive 67, Nortje knew that victory was his as he closed out the stretch.
“On 16 I thought that this was mine. I hit a pretty good second shot and made the putt. I knew I had a pretty good lead and going down 17 I started feeling confident.
“I pulled my first shot a bit, but coming down 18 I felt very confident. I was playing within myself. I knew what I had to do and I did it,” he said.
Lovett, who began the day at level-par, was superb over the stretch and made five birdies. Carding 31 over his final loop boosted the 27-year-old to five-under, and he claimed sole possession of second.
Welshman Stuart Clark played alongside Nortje after shooting a solid 68 on Thursday, but struggled to overcome ERPM’s quick greens and shot level-par for the second round. His four-under-par tally put him into a share of third alongside Coenie Stoop and Coenie Bester.
For Nortje the victory carried far more value than cash – he had won during his maiden year on tour. He looked to the future with optimism. “To win means I belong here. I’ve still got a couple of pre-qualifiers ahead of me, but going into those I’ll have a lot of confidence. I know how to play and I’ll be a lot more comfortable playing in the pre-qualifiers and the bigger events,” he said.
SCORES (RSA unless otherwise specified):
135 – Riekus Nortje 67 68
139 – Thomas Lovett 72 67
140 – Coenie Bester 73 67, Coenie Stoop 72 68, Stuart Clark (WAL) 68 72
141 – Graham van der Merwe 74 67, Thabo Maseko 71 70, Hertzog Landman 70 71
143 – Francois Coetzee 77 66, Attie Schwartzel 74 69, Martin du Toit 72 71, Jacques van Tonder 72 71, Thabang Simon 69 74