It hasn’t been the kind of start Dawie van der Walt would have wanted for his Nedbank Golf Challenge as he was struggling at three-over-par after eight holes when a lightning delay hit the event on Thursday at Gary Player Country Club.
The man who got in to the tournament on the back of his victory in February’s Tshwane Open – the win saw him in second spot on the 2013 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit on November 18, the cut-off date for entry to the tournament by that route – was thrilled to be in the field, but apprehensive of how he might perform after a second half of his year that has been blighted by an ankle injury.
“Since July, when I sprained my ankle, my game’s not been well,” he said. “I’ve missed a lot of cuts this year. I feel like things are starting to come back slowly, and I just need a little bit of confidence. If I can have that first good round – it only takes one round – then it should turn. I’m just trying to play against myself and play better each time – and play the golf I know I can play.”
And play he can. He broke the field wide open with his second-round 54 in the Tshwane Open, and closed with successive 67s to beat the red-hot Darren Fichardt by two strokes.
“I’ve been at the top, and I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom lately,” he said after he missed the cut in the South African Open Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Championship in successive weeks. “I’m just glad to be here and I hope I can play decent golf.
He’s keen to do that in an event that, like most South African golfers, he has eyed for his whole life from afar with a burning desire to play.
“Getting into the tournament happened in a kind of a rush,” he said. “I’ve been watching this for years, and I’m just very happy to be here. It’s the biggest purse I’ve ever played for. And the way they treat the players – it’s just a great tournament.”
His win at Tshwane has opened European Tour doors for him, but in 2014 the man who lives in Kingswood, Texas will persist in his goal of winning a PGA Tour card. “I’m going to play a mixed schedule of Web.com events and European Tour tournaments. My dream is to get into the PGA Tour Playoffs as soon as possible, but I will also play in Europe a little bit more often.