Schuhknecht eyes glory at ISPS Handa Match Play

Top South African disabled golfer Reinard Schuhknecht has dreams of becoming the country’s first disabled golfer on the Sunshine Tour, and this week the 20-year-old Vanderbijlpark golfer will move one step closer to his goal with a historic debut in the Sunshine Tour’s ISPS Handa Match Play Championship.

The R2-million tournament at Zwartkop Country Club from 30 October to 4 November not only marks the first time in 25 years that the match play format returns to the Sunshine Tour schedule, but in a first for South African golf, a field of disabled golfers will play in a concurrent match play competition alongside the tour professionals during the event.

Schuhknecht is one of 11 golfers that will represent the South African Disabled Golf Association.

The balance of the field will be taken up by five top British golfers from the On Course Foundation, an organisation supported by the International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS) that gives seriously injured members of the British Armed Forces the opportunity to play golf.

“It has been my dream to compete on the same stage as the pros ever since I started playing golf in 2007,” the five-handicap golfer said. “This is definitely the first step in that direction.”

A natural athlete with Gauteng regional colours in long jump and shot put, Schuhknecht had just reached the semi-finals of the U14 Gauteng Schools trials and was on the brink of a great rugby career when tragedy struck. Having survived a current of 11 000 volts, the 14-year-old’s life took a decided turn when his left arm was amputated above the elbow.

“I was lying in the hospital looking at this little stump when it struck me that my rugby and athletics career was over,” he said. “I didn’t even give myself time to dwell on it. I started thinking about sports I could do. I told my parents at their next visit I was going to play golf.”

Self-taught at first, Schuhknecht practiced for hours at the J&B Driving Range in Vanderbijlpark before he enlisted the help of coach Martiens van Staden at Riviera Country Club. In 2010, he matriculated from Transvalia High and immediately enrolled at the Dale Hayes Golf School of Excellence at Zwartkop Country Club where he is currently completing the second year of a three-year PGA diploma.

“I am really enjoying my experience at the Dale Hayes Golf School of Excellence,” he said. “I am getting a top class education while working with a top coach in Elsabe Hefer and the chance to practice at a great golf course four times a week. I get a lot of support from my mentors and coaches and I definitely feel that my career is moving in the right direction.”

Schuhknecht recently participated in the European Open Championship in Denmark where he placed 10th in the 0-18 handicap division. He also won the Arm-Amputee division of the annual Nedbank SA Disabled Golf Open in May and finished third overall in 2011 and second this year.

“Reinard definitely has the ability to break barriers and compete on the regular Tour in the future,” said former professional and renowned golf commentator, Dale Hayes.

“He is not only extremely talented, but he also has the grit, determination and work ethics that will see him succeed. He is one of our top students at the School of Excellence and a wonderful example to able and disabled golfers alike.”

Hayes welcomed the inclusion of disabled golfers in the ISPS Handa Match Play Championship, saying that it gives golfers like Schuhknecht the chance to shine on a global stage.

“It is very exciting for us to have one of our Golf School of Excellence students playing in an event of this stature,” Hayes said. “ISPS are offering players like Reinard an incredible opportunity to compete in a world-class tournament and show off their skills to an international audience. Due to its handicap system, golf is one of very few sports where the disabled can compete against the able-bodied athletes. We hope that including players like Reinard in the ISPS Handa Match Play Championship will not only encourage other disabled golfers, but will go a long way in supporting the promoter ISPS in their bid to promote golf as a recognised Paralympic sport.”

Schuhknecht hopes his “home course” advantage will help him reach the semi-finals and finals.

“I am counting on my knowledge of the course to reach at least the semi-finals and hopefully the finals,” he said. “Match play is the purest form of golf and I am relishing the opportunity to test myself against my peers and the British players. I really want to make South Africa proud, encourage more children to take up the game and show disabled golfers everywhere that we are every bit as capable as able-bodied golfers.”

Article: Lali Stander/Michael Vlismas Media

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