Drikus van der Walt claimed the first trophy of the 2014 Big Easy Tour when he trumped Juan Langeveld in a playoff at Centurion Country Club after the pair finished regulation played tied on nine-under-par.
“It’s good to come out here and test yourself against the boys and put yourself in a situation where you might win. I’m very happy to come out on top today,” van der Walt said.
The Big Easy Tour strives to help rising professionals by providing them with tournament experience. This year there are six tournaments that lead to a Tour Championship, where the top 30 on the Order of Merit will compete for five Sunshine Tour cards on offer.
“I use the Big Easy Tour to test my game under pressure. It’s even better to get into contention, because you can really see where your faults are, so it’s awesome to come and play here. It’s about putting yourself in those competitive situations, seeing what happens, and then working on improving from there,” he said.
It was fitting that the 2014 season began with a playoff, but the golf at Centurion Country Club heated up long before regulation play ended.
Van der Walt began the day tied for the lead on four-under-par and, despite a speedy front nine that included birdies at the eighth and ninth, he remained only one shot clear of the chasing pack heading into the stretch. It took solid nerves for the 24-year-old to stay composed while his competitors kept the pressure on.
Clifford Howes carded 66, the low round of the day, to set an early benchmark of seven-under-par, but soon the lead shifted to eight-under when Kevin Stone and Gert Myburgh signed in at score recording.
Langeveld loomed in the second-last match and birdied the 18th to card 67, which set a new clubhouse lead of nine-under.
Van der Walt watched from the 18th fairway as his rival scored. He knew that a birdie was necessary. The Hillcrest local rose to the occasion and played a beautiful approach to six feet left of the pin, boxed the putt, and forced a playoff.
“It was very exciting out there,” he said. “I couldn’t believe Juan was in there again, because he beat me coming down the stretch at Qualifying School. I was watching him the whole way, because I like to know what’s going on. I saw him hit it close on the last and knew I had to make birdie, and luckily I managed to do it.”
The pair returned to the ninth hole to begin the sudden-death playoff. Langeveld played his approach into a water trap left of the green and was forced to take a drop. Van der Walt flopped his chip onto the green and the run was perfect – his ball stopped eight feet short of the hole and he had an uncomplicated two-putt for victory.
“I’ve been in a few playoffs at pre-qualifiers, but this was the first one to win a tournament,” said van der Walt. “It was a good, new experience. And it’s always nice to have two putts for a win.”
The newly-crowned Big Easy champion wants to take his victor’s confidence onto the bigger stage.
“I still have to pre-qualify for a couple of winter events, but I’d like to take this form onto the main tour and see if I can’t win there. My next event is the Investec Royal Swazi Open and I’m pretty excited about it after today,” he said.