Darren Fichardt looked as if he was going to produce the best-ever round on the Sunshine Tour in the first round of the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final presented by Samsung at Zebula Golf Estate and Spa.
In the end, his 11-under-par 61 didn’t meet the expectations that built amongst fans following the round online, but it was good enough to give him a gaping four stroke lead over a group of players who could only look on in wry disbelief as Fichardt tore up the course to match his best round in tournaments and come close to the 60 he has achieved in practice rounds or in social golf.
“I’ve shot 60 so many times. I’ve never felt so disappointed walking off a golf course after shooting a 61,” he laughed. “I was feeling pretty good out there. I shot 28 for the first nine (ne started his round on the 10th), and then I chipped it in for par on the first. Then I eagled the next two holes, and after the second one, I thought, here we go!”
But the wind was coming up on the 6,829-metre (7,469-yard) layout in drought-stricken Limpopo Province and making life difficult for all the players. “I was wondering if I was going to shoot 57,” said Fichardt. “You know if you push for 59 then you just miss it. So I was trying for 57 – just three more birdies and they just didn’t come.”
The wind caused him to mis-club on the fifth, where he dropped his first shot. He said he should have hit a four-iron there, but he missed a par putt which he felt he could have made. And then the wind picked up just as he played his tee shot to 17, pushing his ball left into the bunker where it plugged. “I made a good four from there,” he said ruefully.
Those who might consider themselves within sight of Fichardt at seven-under-par were Chris Swanepoel, Jake Redman, Anthony Michael and Callum Mowat. There were also three players on six-under 66. They were Grant Veenstra, JJ Senekal and JC Ritchie. “Darren was playing just behind me, and when I saw he got to 12-under, I just felt I had to support him. I wanted him to go 13 or 14-under-par,” said Veenstra. “Thank goodness we’ve got two rounds left – we can still try and catch him.”
It won’t be easy, because Fichardt feels if he can get a windless day, there’s no reason he should go low again in the second round. “These greens are so good,” said Fichardt. “I’m hitting my driver well, and, having been playing a lot recently in Europe, these tight lies don’t bother me. So if there’s no wind tomorrow, I hope this is on again.”