An eagle-three on the 452-metre 14th at Bloemfontein Golf Club on Thursday helped ensure Rhys West moved to the top of the third-round leaderboard of the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School.
The 25-year-old who plays out of Glendower Golf Club fired a four-under-par 68 to move to 11 under par for the tournament, giving him a three-stroke edge over his nearest challenger, Daniel Hammond.
“I’m happy with the way my game is going,” said West about the five-round tournament which gets to the sharp end after Friday’s fourth round, when the cut to 60 players and those tying on that score, and after a final round at Bloemfontein Golf Club, the top 30 players and ties will get their Sunshine Tour cards.
He returns on Friday to the second of the two courses on which the tournament is being played, Schoeman Park Golf Club, and he is calling on all the experience he gained during his stint at Southwestern Louisiana University in the United States to cope with the marathon effort required.
“I’m looking at tomorrow as if it’s a normal Saturday at a tournament,” he said. “It’s moving day, and I’ll be trying to position myself for the final day.”
He has been very consistent throughout the week so far: The have been just five bogeys on his card, balanced by 14 birdies and the eagle in the third round.
He credits his time in the US for that consistency. “I thought I was a pretty big deal in my final year in South Africa,” he said, “and I had my eyes opened by the level of golf I encountered in the States. It taught me a lot.”
He has also been taught to deal with personal tragedy: Nothing is more important to him than family. Reminders are all over his upper body. The name of his mother, Margaret, is tattooed on his left bicep; the name of his younger brother, Eifion, down his spine; and the name of his father, Colin West, and ‘45-11’ – his age in years and months – is scrawled vertically on Rhys’ right tricep.
His father died on the morning of a practice round for the Southland Conference Championship. He decided to keep playing, to honour his father. He shot 77-72-74 to tie for 21st.
“I’m not sure about getting tougher because of dealing with all the difficulties,” he said. “When they’re happening, you ask, ‘Why me?’; afterwards, you think, ‘Yeah, I got through that and I can deal with tough stuff.”
Now, the tough stuff is about fulfilling a long-held dream of becoming a professional golfer. “I wanted to try and qualify in the States,” he said. “But it’s incredibly expensive. The Sunshine Tour is a great tour, and clearly a great place to get a springboard to play internationally.”
He will have lots of company in that quest: Grouped on seven-under, one stroke behind Hammond are Callum Mowatt, Juan Langeveld and Gideon Pienaar. And there is a group of six players on six-under – Tyrone Ryan, Jacques de Villiers, Bryce Bibby, Haydn Porteous and Clifford Howes.
They have two more rounds of good play before they know their fate.