Ryan surprised to be sharing Simola lead

When David Ryan abandoned the pro circuit in 2009 after nearly a decade on the Tour, he left because he did not believe he was good enough to compete. But once he completed a PGA Teaching Diploma last year, the pull was too strong to ignore.

A quick stop at the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School in December saw him back in the fold at the start of this season. Still, Ryan was still shocked to find himself sharing the lead with KwaZulu-Natal’s Bryce Easton and Pretoria’s Albert Pistorius after the first round of the Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at Simola Golf and Country Estate.

“You look at the field and you kind of expect to see Branden Grace or Jean Hugo leading,” said Ryan, who signed for a six-under-par 66, which was matched by Easton and Pistorius in the afternoon.

“I saw ‘Ryan’ on the board at the 15th green, but I did a double take when I realised it was me. I was genuinely shocked. On Tuesday I still had to scramble through a qualifying round to get in and today I’m tied for the lead; it’s all a bit much to process.”

Ryan said coming into the tournament after a month-long lay-off probably did the trick.

“I was just back on tour when I fractured my forefinger,” he explained.

“I tried playing with a reverse grip in three events, but things went south, so I took the whole of April off. Coming here, my expectations were just to get into the tournament, but after today I back myself.”

Ryan’s accuracy was key to his leading score. He hit 17 greens in regulation, but 29 putts, including a three-putt at the fifth for bogey, kept him from a lower score.

Ryan said he always believed he could compete, but only realised how burnt-out he was once he stepped away from the tour.

“Time away has given me a lot of perspective and this time around, I’m more mature,” he said. “I plan better, I’m golf fit and I have more confidence to cope with the pressure on Tour.”

But time away from the golf course has put a little rust on Grace’s putter.

“You know, I got it going around the turn; the putting was hot for the first 13 holes, but when I missed that first short one at the fourth, then old habits started creeping back,” said Grace.

The 23-year-old missed a short four-foot putt for his first bogey at the par-four fourth, three-putted for bogey at the par-five seventh and missed another four-footer as he made bogey at the par-four eighth.

“But if I can shake the rust, I will be in challenge mode on Thursday,” he said. “No-one has gone really deep and you can go deep here at Simola and I’ve gone deep here, I know it can be done.

“I will need to take advantage of the five par-fives, because that’s where you score. I let them slip today, but there is always tomorrow.”

By Lali Stander

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