Confident Sipho races clear at Observatory

His eight-under-par 64 in the first round of the Vusi Ngubeni Q-School on Tuesday at Observatory Golf Club showed just how confident Sipho Bujela was when he signed away his amateur status just the day before.

Bujela, who made history as the first black amateur exempt from qualifying for the South African Open Championship last November, had a dream round in his first foray into the paid ranks as he opened with a birdie and an eagle, before making five more birdies to take a two-stroke lead into the second round of the four-round event.

“It’s a good start,” said Bujela. “I’m hitting it nicely and I’m confident in myself, so we’ll just see how it goes.”

Bujela, who plays out of Modderfontein Golf Club and is coached by Neville Sundelson, has developed quite a bit of experience playing with the pros: Besides his SA Open experience, he has played in three Joburg Opens and in the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

“I’ve played enough amateur golf, I think,” said Bujela. “It was about time to sign it away. It was my choice and I’m pretty sure about it.”

It helped that he has played an awful lot of golf at Observatory: “I know this course inside and out,” he said, “so it’s really a question of just hitting the right shots and giving myself a chance to get a good score.

“My putter was hot too,” he added, “but I did make some good up-and-downs. My short game was really solid.”

He held his two-stroke lead over Makgetha Mazibuko, who also played a flawless round for his 66 to match his third round from last year’s eighth-place finish. “I was driving well and putting well,” said the 24-year-old from Bloemfontein who plays out of Harrismith Country Club.

“I’ve been practicing hard for the past few months to get the confidence up ahead of this week and the 66 is a real bonus for me,” he added.

In a share of third place on five-under 67 after the opening round were Warren Holland and Kenneth Dube, while a group of six players was on 68 – one of them was Musiwalo Nethunzwi, Bujela’s friend who also turned pro on the eve of the tournament – one stroke ahead of veteran Omar Sandys.

But it’s going to be tough for any of them to reel in Bujela if his opening round is anything to go by. “The way I’m hitting it, I’m very sure of it. I’ll finish well.”

The leading 15 players after play is completed in the tournament – named for Vusi Ngubeni, a Sunshine Tour board member and a director of Eskom who was killed in a 2003 motor accident – on Friday will make it into category 13 on the Sunshine Tour, while the players finishing in positions 16-40 will gain membership on the Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage.

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