21 June 2023 – George amateur Ben van Wyk continued the country’s proud tradition in the prestigious Amateur Championship when he became the third South African in the last six years to win the 36-hole Stroke Play Qualifier in England on Tuesday.
Following in the footsteps of GolfRSA National Squad graduates Wilco Nienaber (2018) and Jono Broomhead (2022), the 22-year-old University of Georgia senior led from start to finish.
Van Wyk produced a masterclass in his debut in the 128th Amateur Championship, firing seven birdies on the back nine at Hillside Golf Club for an eight-under-par 64 and a one-shot lead in the first round.
Staying patient in the sweeping rain over the final round, the World No 88 turned in one-over but he rallied with a flurry of four birdies over the last six holes for a three-under-par 68 to retain pole position.
The 288-man international field battled for supremacy, and survival, in England’s north-west, with Eliot Baker from England and Swiss golfer Ronan Kleu getting within a shot of Van Wyk, but neither could match or better the Fancourt golfer’s 11-under total of 132.
“I am happy with the result, because it was real tough in the beginning,” said Van Wyk, who recently earned All-American honours. “You have to accept pars and just try and make the long putts. I just stayed patient, stuck in there, made a few good pars and heated up on the back nine.
“I hit it straight off the tee and I’ve always putted well. I’ve been working a lot on my iron play and if
the irons are good, I’m going to have birdie looks. They have just fallen this week.”
Van Wyk also credited his caddie, Norman Seton, for keeping him focussed.
“It has been great to have my best friend on the bag. He helped me simplify the game. He is also from George. Growing up, since we were like 10, he’s always played well. He always beat me when we were younger. It’s nice to get him back. He is on my bag and he’s actually my mental coach and all those things. It’s very impressive for a young age and he helped me for sure a lot on the course.”
Van Wyk, who won the prestigious Nomads SA Boys U-19 Match Play Championship at Humewood Golf Club, does not believe that winning the Stroke Play Qualifier comes with any guarantees.
“Winning the Stroke Play Qualifier is an incredible honour, but when you look at the bigger picture, it means nothing really, because you start from scratch,” he said.
“I do love match play, though. I love the competitive nature and the one-on-one format of it. I’ve done fairly well in match play over years. I was really good as a junior, and I played one or two tournaments at college level. In match play you have to get the job done, one match at a time. Like they say, the fun starts tomorrow.”
Nienaber became the first South African medallist since qualifying was introduced in 1983 when he beat Victor Hovland from Norway by two strokes in the 123rd edition at Royal Aberdeen, but it was fellow GolfRSA National Squad member Jovan Rebula who claimed the ultimate prize when he defeated Ireland’s Robin Dawson 3 & 2.
Broomhead achievement his win at Royal Lytham & St Annes, the same venue where fellow squad member Aldrich Potgieter edged Englishman Sam Bairstow to seal a nail-biting 3 & 2 victory in the 127th edition.
Van Wyk is keeping his expectations low, but he hopes to produce another strong finish.
“Thanks to the University of Georgia, I’ve been out here for a few weeks. This is my first time playing in the United Kingdom, and I have loved every moment out here and I’ve adjusted well to the conditions,” said Van Wyk, who tied for 35th in last week’s St Andrews Links Trophy.
“These are such great courses and it’s a huge privilege to play in these events and gain experience competing against the best in the world. I’m very happy with the way I played these past two days and I’m looking forward to keeping it going to the match play.”
Compatriots Altin van der Merwe (-7), Tyran Snyders, Jordan Burnand (-3) will join Van Wyk in the knock-out stages, while fellow GolfRSA National Squad members Christo Lamprecht and 18-year-old Pascal Gunther will have to play for spots in the top 64 of the Match Play Championship in the preliminary round on Wednesday morning.