On a day of upsets, Justin Walters’ victory was a beacon of steadiness and control as he won his opening match in the R2-million ISPS Handa South African Match Play Championship 1-up against Alpheus Kelapile on Tuesday.
Not that it was plain sailing for the man who has just grafted his way through 21 tournaments on the European Challenge Tour to earn his playing privileges for the 2013 European Tour: His clubs are somewhere between Italy and South Africa.
So he threw together a mix of old clubs he had at home, and nailed down the match with a superb four-iron out of the fairway bunker on the 18th of the 6,442-metre Zwartkop Country Club to 12 feet.
ÂI didnÂt know what was going on,Â said Walters of trying to adapt to the old mixed bag of clubs. ÂI didnÂt know how far the ball was going and I had strange clubs in front of me.Â
To make it worse, it was the first time Walters had ever played the Zwartkops layout: ÂI was trying to figure out the course,Â he said, Âand the wind was swirling, and when we got into it, it was very difficult.Â
He found himself two down after eight holes, and, although he got one back with a win on the ninth, Kelapile restored the lead at the 11th. Things werenÂt made any easier by a lengthy break as a thunderstorm rolled through, but Walters got back on even terms by the 14th.
Kelapile went ahead again on 16 to make things a bit tense heading down the stretch. But Walters responded by winning the 17th and then playing that sublime four-iron on 18. ÂI feel for Alfie,Â said Justin. He really tried hard and I just managed to close him out at the last.Â
For upsets on a day in which the top 16 seeds sat out as 96 players battled it out to get into four brackets of 16 for the next dayÂs action, one didnÂt need to look further than the 2&1 defeat of the 17th ranked Desvonde Botes by Nathan Waghorn, ranked 112.
And while Botes was the highest-ranked player Â based on the current Sunshine Tour Order of Merit Â to fall, there were more surprises: 110th-placed Adrian Ford toppled 19th-ranked Jean Hugo 1-up, and SwitzerlandÂs Robert Wiederkehr, ranked 109th, defeated 20th-ranked Bryce Easton, who has won twice on the Sunshine Tour this year.
To illustrate how match play can cause the downfall of even players in great form, the man who won last weekÂs Sun Coast Classic, 25th-placed Ruan de Smidt went down 3&2 to 104th-ranked Irvin Mazibuko.
Some ÂupsetsÂ were a little less surprising: Riekus Nortje won three times on the Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage, and he beat Ryan Tipping, ranked 17 places above him at 56, 5&4.
Part of that was recent match play experience for the rookie Nortje: ÂI played the SA Amateur Match Play and a couple of match play test matches. All of the under-23 IPTs are match play, and I turned pro at the beginning of the year, so those are all fresh in my mind,Â he said.
Walters, on the other hand, couldnÂt remember when he last played match play: ÂI donÂt think I have played match play as a pro, but IÂm really a huge fan of it and IÂm so happy we have this event,Â he said.
Familiar clubs for his next match might be useful, though.