Oliver Bekker moved into the halfway lead at the Swiss Challenge presented by Association Suisse de Golf courtesy of a five under 66, as the South African hopes to follow in the footsteps of his friend and compatriot Jake Roos by making a career breakthrough on the European Challenge Tour.
The 30 year old, making just his third start of the season on Europe’s top developmental tour, moved one shot clear of his playing partner Jack Doherty of Scotland thanks to a round which included six birdies, five of which came at holes which he also birdied on day one en route to an opening 67.
It has been a rock-solid opening two days for the Stellenbosch player on a tricky course which swallows up wayward drives in heavy, unforgiving rough, and it has almost come as a surprise to Bekker considering he had been struggling from the tee in recent weeks.
“Normally I don’t really hit it that straight off the tee so it is nice for me to do that this week,” he said. “I had been struggling a bit with the driver, the rest of the clubs have been fine, but the driver has been a little sporadic.
“I’m hitting the driver well this week so I’m going to stick to what I’ve been doing, take on all the holes that I’ve been taking on and just give it a go.
“I’m hitting about six drivers per round so it’s not many, but you still have to hit good tee shots and luckily so far I’ve been hitting some nice ones. It’s just a question of confidence, I’ve been swinging it nicely and it’s just a mind game when you get to certain point.
“I’m putting nicely too and the greens have a lot of slopes so if you hit it to the wrong spot on the greens, you’ve got some really challenging two-putts. This week has given me a lot of confidence though and hopefully I can take that forward.”
Having watched, at close quarters, his friend Roos claim a career-changing victory at the Barclays Kenya Open last year before going on to graduate to The European Tour, Bekker is not short on inspiration in his chase to finish in the top 15 of the Road to Oman.
Like Roos, he is a multiple winner on the Sunshine Tour in Africa and he thinks that experience will also stand him in good stead at the weekend.
“I’m good friends with Jake and I actually played with him during the first event he won on the Challenge Tour, the Barclays Kenya Open,” said the three-time Sunshine Tour winner. “He didn’t have any status on the Challenge Tour at the time and I was one shot back going into the final round.
“I finished top ten that week and he ended up winning and then he got his European Tour card so that shows you what can happen. It definitely gives me some inspiration.
“I’m going to try play about 15 events this year and this is the first stretch of five in a row. Then I’ll play another five-week stretch and take it from there. I’m definitely going to try and give it a good go to get a European Tour card at the end of the year.
“The guys out here are really grinding it out, fighting for every spot and trying to get that top 15 place at the end of the year.
“There are some young players out here but there are also the more experienced guys who have played European Tour before, so it’s tough.
“I think it’s a definite advantage if you have won a few times before. It’s been a while, but you remember that have done it and can do it. I still have two rounds to go here but hopefully I can put myself in a good position tomorrow to be able to win on Sunday.”
Doherty, meanwhile, replicated his four under par opening round of 67 to move to eight under par, one shot behind Bekker, and ensure the two will play together for a third successive round – this time in the final group.
First round leader Gary Boyd could not quite build on the momentum of his five under par opening round, despite starting with a birdie at the ninth hole – his first – but a one under par 70 was enough to keep the Englishman in touch with the lead, three shots back on six under alongside compatriot Jack Senior and South African Haydn Porteous.