Hard work pays off as Fichardt leads Telkom PGA Championship

Darren Fichardt has heard that the rough at Country Club Johannesburg is pretty severe. But after a first round of 64 in the Telkom PGA Championship on Thursday, he still couldn’t tell you what it looks like.

Fichardt missed only one fairway and didn’t make a single bogey on his way to a one-stroke lead on eight under in South Africa’s second oldest professional tournament.

Trevor Fisher Jnr is his nearest challenger, with young Free State professional Dean Burmester on six under.

And while Burmester recalls watching Louis Oosthuizen win this championship in 2008 with a phenomenal total of 28-under-par and has dreams of similar glory, Fichardt has been forging his ambitions in the cauldron of the practice range.

“I’ve been working really hard. Really, really hard,” he said after his round. “I’ve been hitting 500 to 600 balls a day, so I’m not surprised. I was going through the motions out there, just picking my targets off the tee and making sure I hit fairways and greens.

“The course is playing long and longer hitters have an advantage here. But the rough is up and the greens firm, so fairways are always a winner. But most importantly the putter needs to work, and that’s really good right now.”

Fisher was also pleased with his putting performance. He has four putters in his car boot this week, and a whole lot more in his garage at home. “If they don’t work, I change them,” he said. “But this one seems to be behaving. It was a very good day. You’ve got to get off to a good start here because the guys will make lots of birdies.”

Over the past few years the Telkom PGA Championship has certainly helped launch the international careers of South African golfers.

Louis Oosthuizen won this event back-to-back in 2007 and 2008, Jaco van Zyl in 2009 and George Coetzee in 2011, and all have gone on to greater success internationally, most notably Oosthuizen.

It’s a fact not lost on the likes of 22-year-old Burmester. “I remember watching Louis winning here (in 2008). It was just a sublime performance. It was unreal golf. I’m still young and hopefully I can get up there with the big guys someday, and emulate what he did, which would be awesome – it would kick start a career.”

Van Zyl opened with a three-under 69 on Thursday, while Jbé Kruger signed for a two-under 70.

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