Juniors primed for Sanlam SA Match Play

A flock of top juniors are ready to do battle in Sunday’s stroke play seeding qualifier at Stellenbosch Golf Club to secure a prime spot for the 2017 Sanlam South African Women’s Amateur Championship, which tees off from 17-19 July.

South Africa’s number one ranked Kajal Mistry is undoubtedly one of the in-form young prospects, alongside Gauteng pair Chiara Contomathios and Symone Henriques, Danielle du Toit from Gauteng North and Kaylah Williams from Western Province.

Mistry won the Sanlam South African Women’s Stroke Play Championship title in April and a spate of strong performances in the last six weeks suggests the 16-year-old Randpark golfer is a bankable candidate to land the elusive double.

Only seven players have claimed a calendar double in the last 32 years of the flagship event and no-one has managed it since the Match Play and Stroke Play Championships were split in 2012.

Former double champions include Mandy Adamson (1992), Sanet Marais (1994), Tanica van As (2003), Cas Bridge (2001), Breanne Loucks from Wales (2008) and Kim Williams (2010), while reigning Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies champion Ashleigh Buhai (nee Simon) accomplished the rare feat three times in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Mistry backed up an eighth place overall in the Individual Competition at the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup in Japan in June with runner-up finishes in the Nomads SA Girls and Liberty GNGU Women’s Stroke Play Championships this month. On Wednesday she defeated Du Toit for the Liberty GNGU Women’s Open Match Play title, a clear sign that the putting woes that troubled Mistry in April and May are a thing of the past.

Despite playing a limited schedule this season due to scholastic demands, Du Toit bagged victories in the North West Open and Gauteng ProShop 36 Hole Championship. On Monday, the 17-year-old Menlo Park High School matriculant came from behind to beat Mistry by five shots and she certainly has the big match temperament to go all the way this year.

In last year’s edition, Mistry fell in the second round, but Du Toit made it all the way to the semi-final at Ebotse Links before she lost to finalist Cara Gorlei from Western Province.

Former Nomads SA Girls Rose Bowl champion Contomathios, GolfRSA Elite Squad player Henriques and Williams, a former Ackerman Championship winner are three more juniors on the rise.

The 17-year-old from Wanderers has racked up runner-up finishes in the Nomads SA Girls Rose Bowl, Nomads SA Girls and the Limpopo Championship since her KwaZulu-Natal Championship victory in March.

Henriques boasts seven top five finishes this season and chased Mistry all the way to the finish line in the Sanlam SA Women’s Stroke Play. She was also member of the GolfRSA team that competed in the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup, courtesy of winning the first All-Africa Junior Golf Challenge in Zimbabwe.

Williams, who won the Sanlam SA Women’s Stroke Play B-Division title in 2015, had a quiet start to the season. However, a tie for sixth in the Nomads SA Girls Championship in early July and a top 10 finish in the Liberty GNGU Open Stroke Play vaulted the 15-year-old Bellville golfer to eighth in the WGSA Junior Rankings. On Monday, she reached the semi-final of the Liberty GNGU Open Match Play, but lost 4 & 2 to Mistry.

However, these inform juniors will have to hold their nerve against former top ranked Gorlei, Bianca Lohbauer and Natasha Carlsson, whose experience from competing on the college golf circuit in the United States could give this trio the edge.

Gorlei, a top performer for the University of Arkansas in 2016-2017, was dispatched in the first round in 2014 and the second round in 2015. Last year she made it all the way to the final round at Ebotse, but had her title hopes shattered by Lumien Orton.

Carlsson just completed her first season at Kansas State University, while Lohbauer from Paarl was named to the All-Sun Belt First Team in her third year at Troy University in Alabama.

Lohbauer will lead the local pack of challengers, including top junior Crystal Beukes, Nina Grey, Bianca Wernich, Shani Brynard, Annette Swanepoel, Megan O’Grady, Annerie Coetzee, Megan Streicher, Cassidy Williams, Annalie Swanepoel and seasoned mid-amateur Lynn Behagg.

Stellenbosch Golf Club has played host to a number of South African Open Championships, men’s and women’s amateur stroke play and match play championships and several premier SA Inter-Provincial events.

The layout will provide the stage for four days of intense competition for the players contesting this year’s flagship event of women’s amateur golf.

“The Sanlam SA Women’s Amateur Championship annually showcases the incredible talent of women golfers in South Africa and it provides a wonderful platform for our junior golfers to test themselves against our top senior amateurs,” said Womens Golf South Africa president Sally Greasley.

“At least half the field in this year’s championship are under-19 and their participation aligns with Sanlam and Womens Golf South Africa’s vision for golf development. Our rising stars have dominated in the senior events on the provincial circuit this year and this speak volumes to the standard of the junior golf development in South Africa.”

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

PHOTO Credit Les Rule