12th March 2018 | Sunshine Tour
Motivation abounds for Bekker in Tour Champs
The prestige of winning a season-ending Tour Championship on the Sunshine Tour will be the motivating factor for the likes of Oliver Bekker when the tournament gets underway at Serengeti Estates on Thursday.
Bekker finds himself in fifth position on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit ahead of the final event of the 2017-18 term, and unable to overhaul leader George Coetzee. That’s despite the fact that three victories before the end of August had Bekker atop the standings for much of the year.
So it was somewhat galling for him to hit a barren patch as the final events on the Sunshine Tour schedule rolled around with their substantial purses. A pair of top-10s – in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open and the Cape Town Open – were not enough to counteract a missed cut in the BMW SA Open, and middling to poor finishes in the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, the Dimension Data Pro-Am and a missed cut in the Tshwane Open.
To regain his sublime early-season form and take a win in this new tournament would give him some bragging rights to take from the fray, especially if he’s able to go head-to-head with Coetzee and defeat the man who pipped him at the post to take the Order of Merit.
There are a couple of other players who will feel a little like Bekker does. JC Ritchie and Okkie Strydom have had the seasons of their careers. And while they might not feel as if they have had the Order of Merit snatched from them, a concluding victory for either of them would be the icing on the cake.
Ritchie had a wretched start to his year – but it only lasted five holes of the 2018 Zimbabwe Open. He made a quintuple-bogey nine on the opening hole, and bogey again on the fifth. But he picked up the pace dramatically, closing with a flawless 64 to win his maiden Sunshine Tour title.
He’s followed that up with a pair of superb third-place finishes, one in the BMW SA Open and the other in the Cape Town Open. He also finished a creditable 13th in the Dimension Data Pro-Am and the Tshwane Open, solidifying the impression that he’s had a breakout year.
Strydom has come extraordinarily close to winning his first Sunshine Tour title in 10 years as a professional. He finished second a remarkable five times during the season – in May, June, August, October and November.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking of those runner-up finishes came in the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Sishen, where he and Hennie du Plessis went to-to-toe for four extra play-off holes. Strydom succumbed to a 50-foot birdie putt from the 21-year-old.
Of course, there are more players than just those three who would want to sign off the season with a flourish in the elite field made up of all available players from inside the top 50 of the Order of Merit after the Tshwane Open.
But victory for any of those three would be especially sweet.