Coming so close to winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit last year was both a good and a difficult experience for Danie van Tonder, but he put it all – good and bad – to good use in an opening round of six-under-par 66 in the 20th Dimension Data Pro-Am.
That gave him a share of the lead with George Coetzee and Justin Harding, and it sent a signal that he is determined to erase the memories of letting slip what seemed to be an iron grip on the Sid Brews Trophy which is awarded to the man who tops the annual money list on the Sunshine Tour.
“I always put in a lot of work on my game,” he said. “It’s never off-season for me. I always get up early, I practice, I go to the gym, I do fitness work… I want to get stronger and better, so it’ss always more or less the same thing for me.”
He kept his routines in the break between the South African Open Championship and the R4.5-million Dimension Data Pro-Am, a gap of six weeks during which there was no tournament play for him.
Before that break, he had let Thomas Aiken get close enough to make a real run for the Order of Merit title, and a poor SA Open performance – he had an opening 78 and a closing 75 which left him in a share of 55th – saw Aiken needing a birdie on his final hole of the tournament to get a share of fifth and pip Van Tonder to the post.
Aiken did the business, and Van Tonder was left rueing a final quarter of an astonishing year which included four finishes outside the top 10 after he had racked up an incredible 14 such performances.
“I went through a stage when I wasn’t confident about my game,” he said, “and I was wondering if I was doing the right stuff. But after the 66 in the first round here, I’m really pleased with things.”
He played his opening round on the Outeniqua course – players play one round on each of The Links at Fancourt, Outeniqua and Montagu, ahead of the third-round cut to the top 65 players and ties – and dropped just a single shot while making seven birdies.
It was that kind of play which took him so close to the Order of Merit title last year.