Tjaart van der Walt must have wondered if he would ever break through to the winner’s circle, but he put those doubts behind him with an emphatic six-stroke win on Sunday in the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open.
He carded a final-round one-under-par 71 for a 14-under-par total of 274 to beat Michael Hollick, who fired the round of the day with his four-under 68 to finish on 280, while Hennie Otto, the midway leader, battled to a four-over 76 to finish third.
When he came second on a major tour for the 13th time in his career – in St Omer in the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open presented by Neuflize OBC – this victory must have seemed more elusive than ever.
“The feeling is quite out there! I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “After so many seconds you start to wonder it’s going to come through. It happened this week, so I’m over the moon.”
He had recorded an array of runner-up finishes across the globe, including five on the Sunshine Tour, three on the Nationwide Tour, one on the PGA Tour, two on the European Tour and one on the Asian Tour.
And when he made bogey on the first in the final round after his scintillating seven-under-par 65 in the third round, his heart must have sank. But he kept his head together in impressive fashion while his playing partner Otto was battling to get anything going, and birdies on six and eight were eventually enough to pull him clear of any but the most outrageously spectacular finish.
He bogeyed 14 – the most difficult hole on the course throughout the tournament – but he hit back immediately with a birdie on 15 and then parred his way home.
“At the turn I knew I had a lead, but this back nine can get tricky with the wind,” he said. “I managed to pull off all of the shots I needed to. I persevered and stuck to what I know to work, and I pulled it off.”
Van der Walt has always been a cerebral golfer, turning to people close to him and to unlikely sources for support and assistance.
“I feel like now we are at a point where our network and sports structure is incredible,” he said. “Everyone is pulling for me, and how can you not succeed with that? You have to just keep going. That’s what I felt like on the back nine.”
Hollick got the best finish of his fledgling professional career by making six one-putts in a row on the final six holes, and the final four of those brought birdies. With Otto shipping water further back on the course – and making bogey on the 18th, that was enough to give him second on his own, topping his previous best Sunshine Tour performances of 2013 with a trio of fifth places.
His turn will come – if he listens to how a 39-year-old professional since 1996 does it: “You have to just back yourself and go for it. If you pack in and stop playing then you will never know. I am living proof that you should never, never give up,” said Van der Walt.