Dylan Naidoo birdied three of his last four holes at the West Course for a one-under-par 70, but the 17-year-old Central Gauteng amateur still checked the Joburg Open leaderboard twice to verify his position after first round action wrapped up at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington on Thursday.
“You always find the amateurs at the bottom of the leaderboard in these kind of events, so I just started at the bottom and worked my way up,” the reigning Nomads SA Boys U-17 champion remarked.
“There are 207 professionals in the field this week, so I was very relieved to find that I didn’t disgrace myself. It was nice to see that Tristen (Strydom) also did well at the West Course.”
Naidoo’s strong finish handed him a seat in the 24-man bus at 88th position while Strydom finished in a 24-strong group at two-under 69 and both players found themselves in some esteemed company.
Strydom tied for 64th alongside four-time European Tour winner Gregory Bourdy from France and 13-time Sunshine Tour champion Jaco van Zyl.
Naidoo’s group included European Tour winners Mikael Lundberg from Sweden, Portugal’s Ricardo Santos and reigning Investec Cup champion Trevor Fisher Jnr.
The young gun admitted his nerves spoiled his start, but was pleased that he managed to settle down and fight his way back into the tournament.
“I expected to feel nervous because this was my first ever start in a professional event,” he said.
“I purposefully stayed away from all the stuff going on around the clubhouse and just worked on my preparation. I haven’t even been to the players’ lounge, yet.
“Lance Michler, who runs junior golf at Modderfontein and he also works on the Sunshine Tour as a rules official, helped to organise some practice rounds for me, and I learned a lot playing with Kevin and Brandon Stone and Allan Versfeld.
“But you can’t stop the nerves and I started with a bogey like all nervous players do.”
Naidoo notched three solid pars from the second hole, but stumbled again at the par-three fifth.
“That’s a birdie hole on any given day,” said the TuksSport Golf Academy player.
“Instead of going with a soft sand-wedge off the tee, I hit a hard lob-wedge in, dunked it in the water and walked off with a double.
“By the time I reached the eighth hole, I had seven two-putts in a row and I told myself it is time to calm down. I knew I would play better if I just settled and I managed to pick up some momentum.”
Naidoo hit a superb flop-shot to fly the bunker at the par-five and boxed a 25-foot putt for birdie.
He notched four pars in a row and took care of the deficit with birdies at the 15th and 16th.
“I hit it to six foot at 15, but I didn’t think I would birdie 16,” he said.
“The pin for set so far back I wasn’t even sure if it was on the green. I hit a good approach and holed a 25-footer for the birdie. At the 17th I hit a great tee shot and a perfect wedge for a tap-in birdie and finished with a two-putt birdie for par at the 18th.
“It is such an incredible honour to be given this opportunity and I really want to make the most of it and learn as much as possible from this experience.”
Earlier this season, the teenager lined up in the victorious six-man SA Junior Squad that defeated a junior French side in two-day Test at St Francis Links and contributed to a third successive victory for the South African Golf Association’s Junior Team in the annual International Triangular between against the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) and a team from the Scottish Golf Union at Wanderers Golf Club in February.
Naidoo gained a lot of experience last year when he represented South Africa in the Italian U-16 Championship and underlined his status as one the country’s rising stars with a top 30 finish at the Junior World Golf Championship in San Diego, California and a top 10 finish at the US Kids Golf Teen World Championship at Pinehurst’s Number Eight in North Carolina.
He was pivotal to Central Gauteng’s victory in the 2014 Challenge Cup Teams Tournament and represented the Union in the SA U-23 and SA U-19 Inter-Provincials.
He helped TuksSport Golf Academy to a second victory in the SA High School Championship and was a member of the four-man Modderfontein Golf Club side that defended their Louis Oosthuizen SA Junior Club Teams Championship title in September.
Picture: Catherine Kotze (SASPA)