Oliver Bekker was six-under for his first round of the Nelson Mandela Championship on Thursday, but heavy rain waterlogged the course and play was suspended until 6am on Friday. Bekker had three holes left to play, but remained unfazed by the interruption.
“You just keep your head down and grind. There’s nothing you can do about it. If you can get past the mental battle and accept that it’s the same for everyone, then I think you’ve already beaten half of the field,” he said.
The three-time Sunshine Tour winner from Stellenbosch made inroads to the lead with an opening nine of 29 strokes that began with three consecutive birdies. The South African had a clear target to chase after England’s Daniel Brooks posted an eight-under-par 62 right before the suspension of play due to bad light on Wednesday evening.
“I was completely focused on getting to the 18th tee box when we got called in,” said Brooks. “That probably helped, in a way, because I just kept playing and the result was good.”
Local favourites Branden Grace and Darren Fichardt both birdied the 12th to reach four-under before they ducked into the clubhouse tied for eighth.
Three Frenchmen stand between Bekker and the lead. Francois Calmels shot seven-under to hold sole second, while his countrymen Edouard Dubois and Romain Wattel reached the clubhouse in six-under to share third place.
On Thursday Bekker climbed the leaderboard quickly at Mount Edgecombe Country Club and distinguished himself from the many golfers who struggled in the wet conditions. By the time the hooters sounded at 10.23am he was six-under with four holes to play.
“I’m actually happy with the delay, to be honest. The weather is brutal out there at the moment and I’ve got a couple of tough holes coming up, so hopefully it clears up and those holes become a little easier when I go back out,” he said.
The 29-year-old celebrated his birthday yesterday, which added to his smiles in an event that has a history of weather delays. His experience on the European Challenge Tour has prepared him for wet weeks, and now his time has come to show it.
“Today I made a couple of good putts and things have been going my way. Those little breaks make a big difference in bad weather. The forecast for tomorrow and Saturday is pretty good, so if it clears up we could get a few good rounds in,” he said.