Nic seeks to keep Henning flag flying at Telkom PGA Championship

His best performance in the South African PGA Championship was a share of third in 2001, and Nic Henning now has to go through a pre-qualifier for the Telkom PGA Championship this year.

Henning, 43, has two other top 10s in one of the Sunshine Tour’s most prestigious and historically significant tournaments – sixth in 2005 behind champion Warren Abery and a share of fourth in 2002 behind winner Michiel Bothma.

He came third in 2001 behind eventual winner Deane Pappas, and, after his playing opportunities dwindled over the last two years, he faces more than 60 other players in Tuesday’s pre-qualifying round over the Rocklands course at Country Club Johannesburg in a dog-fight for just 10 places in the tournament founded in 1965, largely thanks to Gary Player and Henning’s uncle Brian Henning.

“I haven’t played well over the last 18 months or two years,” admitted Henning, “but things are starting to feel better: I shot a 69 in the pre-qualifier for the Tshwane Open, and although that’s not a bad round, it wasn’t good enough to get in.

“And I qualified for the Alfred Dunhill Championship last year, but played poorly in the main tournament,” he added.

Henning’s finest hour came in 1999, when he beat the future 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke in a playoff to win the Vodacom Players Championship at Royal Cape. Also behind him were the likes of Trevor Immelman, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

“I got into the Open Championship the following year,” he said, “on the strength of my second place in the South African Order of Merit. And now I find myself playing a pre-qualifier!”

While it’s frustrating for a player carrying the storied Henning surname, it’s also not unusual for players from a fading era to go though the battles he faces. Also attempting to pre-qualify is <>Wayne Westner, a two-time South African Open champion and twice runner-up in the PGA Championship.

And, as frustrating as it is, the toughness of the pre-qualifying is also an indication of the current strength of golf on the Sunshine Tour. An example of that is seen in MJ Daffue who came third in the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School last year. In his three pre-qualifying rounds this year, he is 13-under-par, but only his six-under 66 in the Telkom PGA Pro-Am in January was good enough to get him into the event.

But a fourth place in that Telkom PGA Pro-Am and a share of 47th in the Joburg Open sees him straight into the Telkom PGA Championship, while Henning will have to get it all right in Tuesday’s pre-qualifier.

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