With 94 amateurs amongst the 247 hopefuls who will tee it up at next week’s Sunshine Tour Qualifying School in Bloemfontein next Tuesday, there seems to a keen desire amongst players to dip their toes into professional waters.
There are 30 Sunshine Tour cards available for the 2015 season, but players must first negotiate four rounds – two at each of the Bloemfontein Golf Club and the adjacent Schoeman Park Golf Club – and then survive the 72-hole cut in order to have a final fling in the fifth round at getting one of those cards.
Amongst the amateurs are three of the top 10 according to the ranking of the South African Golf Association: Matthew Spacey is ranked fifth, Stefan Cronje seventh and NJ Arnoldi who is in eighth spot.
If they – or any other amateur – makes it into the top 30 next Saturday, they will be asked to renounce their amateur status should they want to take up the opportunity to play on the Sunshine Tour.
Two former amateurs who have already forgone their status are Thriston Lawrence and Zander Lombard. Lawrence made his professional debut in the Scottish Hydro Challenge last June, while Lombard turned professional ahead of the European Tour’s Qualifying School Final Stage, where he just missed out on gaining exemption on that tour.
With a little professional experience already under their belts, Lawrence and Lombard will surely expect of themselves at very least some action in the final round after the cut, and then also the temperament to be able to play themselves into the top 30.
With a lot of tournament experience last year, the likes of Spacey, Cronje and Arnoldi will also bring some tried and tested temperament to the party. Spacey won the Central Gauteng Open, was runner-up in the Ekurhuleni Open, and had five top-five and seven top-10 finishes to his credit in 2014. Cronje had a share of second in the South African Stroke Play Championship and the Harry Oppenheimer Trophy, as well as five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 2014. Arnoldi, like Cronje from the Nigel Golf Club, won the Prince’s Grant Amateur and had three top-five and seven top-10 finishes.
Lombard brings a great pedigree to the party: He was runner up in the Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush. When he turned pro, he was ranked second in South Africa and 39th in the world amateur golf rankings, a career high. In 2014, he had 11 top 10 finishes, including victory at KwaZulu-Natal Amateur Stroke Play Championship, runner-up in Border Stroke Play and three third-place finishes.
And Lawrence has an impressive resume too: He won the Lytham Trophy at Royal Lytham & St Annes, the first South African to do so in 50 editions; he won the Sanlam SA Amateur Championship in 2013 and 2014, where he was the youngest winner in 106 years at 16 years, three months in 2013 and first champion in 36 years to successfully defend his title.
Turning professional is what they want to do – so the past counts for nothing ahead of the 90 holes of grinding at Qualifying School.