Glendower Golf ClubÂs Rudy Whitfield was in his element on Thursday, shooting an opening 68 at his home course to lead round one of the Sunshine Big Easy Tour tournament presented by Stonehage.
ÂYou can hit it certain places where youÂre not used to hitting it and you can come out of there because you know itÂs not too bad. So I guess a bit of local knowledge can help,Â he said.
Whitfield, who received an invitation to play this week, was a member of the Sunshine Tour from 1997 to 2007. He did not expect to lead the first round, however, and added: ÂItÂs a nice surprise for me because I havenÂt been playing that much, you know I havenÂt played on the tour for the last three, four years. I must say I fought well around the golf course, and I putted half decently too.Â
Now settled into life outside the professional circuit, he tried to stay as relaxed on the course as possible. While playing his home course definitely helped, he did feel a bit of pressure. ÂItÂs actually harder playing on your home course because you do expect to play well. It was just a case of getting down and hitting it down there,Â he said.
An eagle at the 15th took Whitfield to four-under-par and he never looked back – he heads into the final round with a two-shot cushion. ÂI hit a really nice tee shot and was left with an eight-iron in. I was just trying to hit it in the middle of the green and I pulled it a little bit and it turned out quite nice. I knocked the putt in which was about 10 foot.
ÂIt is going to be nice to go in there tomorrow and have a chance. I think thatÂs why anyone playing professional golf does it Â itÂs to be in contention on the last day. Whether you do it full-time or part-time, you want to be in contention,Â he added.
Another surprising frontrunner was junior Darin de Smidt, who shot 70 and heads into the final round in sole second. He received his invitation through the South African Golf Association.
ÂItÂs great to shoot 70 in my first pro tournament. I didnÂt make a bogey today, which was really nice. My goal is to finish in the top 10, if I can do that IÂll be really happy. The course setup is tough, and the professionals are more serious, which is very interesting to be a part of,Â he said.
The youngster is the brother of Sunshine Tour rookie Ruan de Smidt, and it soon became apparent that golf success was a family affair.
ÂIt runs in the family Â my dad and my brother are both professionals. When IÂm not at school we (Ruan and I) play quite a lot, but I struggle to beat him. HeÂs still too good, but maybe in a few yearsÂ time IÂll play against him in a Sunshine Tour event,Â he said.