Amid the hype surrounding the increasing number of co-sanctioned events, the individual prestige of specific tournaments can sometimes be forgotten. But speaking to players this week, especially those of South African descent, one quickly realises just how much our national Open means to them.
One such golfer is JJ Senekal, and the 26-year old admitted that his passion for the event dates back to his early years as an aspiring junior.
“It’s like our fifth major, not that I’ve played in one,” Senekal explained with a grin. “This is our most prestigious tournament, and with Ernie being involved and all of the history it’s exactly where you want to be.
“I watched Trevor Immelman at Erinvale (in 2002) and walked with him. Back then I was trying to catch golf balls and gloves, now I’m the guy that wants to hand them out, so I’m living the dream. It was my dream and always what I wanted to do. Golf was my life from a very young age and I’m happy to be here.
“But this is our biggest event, and the one you really want to do well in,” he added.
Thus far, he’s certainly obliged in terms of performance this week. A steady 71 on day one laid a good platform, but it was on Friday that Senekal really got things going. An outward nine of 36 didn’t necessarily make any great waves, but five birdies without a blemish coming home on Glendower’s challenging front nine saw him reach six-under par at the halfway mark – good enough to commence day three in a lofty share of third place.
“It’s a great position to be in. There are a few good names up there and it’s good to see myself up there with the best,” he beamed.
“I shot level par on the front nine, and then got off to a good start after the turn,” Senekal continued. “I birdied one and two, which put me in a good position to play well. It feels good to be where I am.”
Form and the ability to control nerves are paramount in such pressure-filled situations, and with the difficult setup of the course, there is little room for error. Yet Senekal revealed that a patient and conservative strategy has been his biggest focus this week, and believes such an approach remains the way to go heading into a potentially crucial weekend in his career.
“I tried to put a goal out there for myself this week to shoot level or better every nine, and just take it from there,” the 2013 Vodacom Origins Final winner noted. “It’s not about trying to go deep; just take your pars, and then perhaps grab the odd opportunity which comes your way.
“I’m going to try to keep the attitude the same for the next two days. If I can avoid the bogeys it will help. The greens are rolling true, so I’d like to give myself a few chances,” he concluded.