Soweto amateur Sipho Bujela will make history as the first black amateur exempt from qualifying when he tees it up in the South African Open Championship at Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate on Thursday.
The South African Golf Association (SAGA) is the custodian of the country’s national Open and each year, nominates five top amateurs to play in the championship.
The five nominated players are Brandon Stone, Zander Lombard and Haydn Porteous, who represented South Africa at the World Amateur Team Championships in Turkey, Ekurhuleni’s Gert Myburgh and Bujela.
Myburgh, ranked sixth on the SAGA national rankings and Bujela, ranked seventh, earned their passage to the Open after fourth and fifth ranked Drikus Bruyns and CJ du Plessis were unavailable due to being selected to represent South Africa at the Juan Carlos Tailhade Cup and Argentine Amateur Championship in Argentina.
Coert Groenewald from Ebotse in Ekurhuleni, Limpopo’s Jacques Kruyswijk from Tzaneen and Royal
Johannesburg and Kensington’s Terence Boardman will also be in the line up after qualifying at Glendower Country Club, Kempton Park Golf Club and Benoni Country Club respectively.
Buleja and his peers will be teeing it up alongside the likes of 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, four-time European Tour winner Branden Grace, PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer from Germany, defending champion and European Tour winner Hennie Otto, as well as Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, an international winner and former Nedbank Golf Challenge champion.
It has been a watershed year for Bujela.
The 22-year-old Soweto amateur broke through for his first provincial title at the Southern Cape Open in August and won his second, the Ekurhuleni Open, last month.
The former South African Golf Development Board learner represented the SAGDB in a one-day Triangular against a Scottish Golf Union’s Squad and a Protea side, comprising the leading junior golfers in the country in February and was one of the key performers for Central Gauteng at the South African Inter-Provincial Championship in October.
“I am honoured that the SAGA nominated me to play in the SA Open,” he said. “I am really excited to be playing with the best golfers from South African and the international pros, because it’s an incredible opportunity for us to learn from the best. It’s going to be very tough to stay calm when we start, but I think then I will settle down and just concentrate on my game.
“It’s going to be important to stay positive and focus to get through the first two rounds.”
Stone, who ranks inside the top 30 on the official world amateur rankings, lifted the Freddie Tait Cup as the leading amateur in last year’s championship.
The former SA No 1 lifted the individual trophy in the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Georgia just weeks after he took up a golf scholarship at the University of Texas in August.
Before he left for the United States, Stone amassed a slew of top 10 finishes in South Africa, including victories at the Prince’s Grant Invitational, KwaZulu-Natal Open and Cape Province Open. He also narrowly lost the Sanlam South African Match Play Championship title to Scotland’s Brian Soutar.
“I’m really looking forward to this week and to defending the Freddie Tait Cup,” the 19-year-old Els Club – Copperleaf golfer said. “Nothing beats playing the country’s national Open and to challenge alongside some of the best golfers in the world.”