When Johannesburg golfer Sipho Bujela made his debut in the South African Open Championship last year, he became the first black amateur exempted from qualifying for the country's flagship event.
In January, the rising star secured his pro card at the Vusi Ngubeni Qualifying School and 11 months later, the Sunshine Tour rookie is relishing his pro debut in the 103rd edition of the second oldest national championships at the Glendower Golf Club from November 21-24.
And the experience last year has not detracted from the growing excitement Bujela is feeling as the championship approaches.
“It is an exciting time for me because last year I was there as an amateur, but now I'll be playing as a pro,” Bujela said. “The SA Open was a great experience last year and I know I'm in for another great experience this year. The SA Open is very special and it is the one tournament every South African wants to win at least once in their lifetime. I dream of winning our Open.”
Adjusting to the pro ranks has been tough, but Bujela stole the headlines a few months ago when he snatched the lead at Zambia Sugar Open in Lusaka with an opening eight-under-par 65. The 23-year-old eventually tied for 21st in his third best performance this season.
Having played a lot of amateur golf at the par-72 layout, the young gun is quite familiar with Glendower and the challenges of the classic course.
“You need to have your course management in place from the moment you tee off,” the Modderfontein golfer said. “This course really tests your ability to stay focused. You need to know what has to be done, and you need to stick to your game plan; if you don’t, you will be punished.
“There's not much room for error and you can't afford two bad shots in a row if you want to stand any chance of returning a decent score.”
A few weeks ago, Bujela was forced to withdraw after the first round of the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final at St Francis Links due to a wrist injury, but the Soweto golfer says he is recovering well and is almost pain-free.
He will be teeing it up in the company of major champions Charl Schwartzel and Retief Goosen, as well as other rising black stars including Lindani Ndwandwe and Toto Thimba Jnr, TI Mazibuko and former top amateur Keenan Davidse.
Bujela believes the quality of this year's field is so high that it would be hard to predict who will triumph at the event which will also mark the start of the 2014 European Tour schedule.
"I like the way Henrik Stenson plays and I bet he'll want to keep the title," said Bujela. "He has the sort of game that is required to do well at Glendower.
“But it’s the SA Open, so the South Africans will be fired up and play with loads of passion. I think there are quite a few South Africans who can be serious contenders at Glendower, like Charl Schwartzel, Darren Fichardt, Jaco van Zyl and me.”