With the new year fully underway after a successful Volvo Golf Champions tournament, it’s time for a new crop of young hopefuls to begin their journey to the top, starting at the Vusi Ngubeni Qualifying School this week.
Located next to the impressive Soccer City stadium is Crown Mines Golf Club, the host venue for this week’s qualifying school. The tournament has 123 players entered, 15 of whom will leave on Friday with Sunshine Tour cards for 2014.
Also on offer are an extra 25 Big Easy Tour cards, which means a total of 40 new development tour members.
With this much to play for there is little doubt that the 51 amateurs in the field will look to make their dreams come true. A full season's playing privileges and the chance to tour as a professional is the dream of every newcomer at qualifying school, and there will be plenty of highs and lows at Crown Mines this week.
Named for the late Vusi Ngubeni, a Sunshine Tour board member and a director of Eskom who was killed in a 2003 motor accident, the 72-hole event was originally conceived as an opportunity for previously disadvantaged players to get onto the Sunshine Tour.
That was a cause which was particularly close to the heart of Ngubeni, a natural sportsman who achieved a five-handicap after only a short period of playing golf. He actively endeavoured to produce positive solutions to the issues created by a lack of access, and was also involved in the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, identifying and assisting promising young black golfers.
Leading the new wave of hopefuls is Damian Naicker, the top-ranked amateur in the field. The 25-year-old has produced a handful of rounds in the 60s during his time as an open amateur, including a 65 at the Rocklands course of Country Club Johannesburg.
The challenge for these new amateurs will be consistent scoring, because the 72-hole format of the event is very different from the standard amateur format of 54 holes.
Added to the pressure is a cut after 36 holes and the presence of strong Sunshine Tour professionals looking to recover their place on tour. The list of veterans includes Omar Sandys and Teboho Sefatsa, while young guns Musiwalo Nethunzwi and Sipho Bujela are also in the mix.
The week is just beginning at Crown Mines and already the pressure is mounting, but golfing professionals should thrive under pressure. The new wave must handle the moment in order to stand up against South Africa’s best in the coming season – and this week is the first test.