Things on the up for Ryan

The depth of talent on the Sunshine Tour is going a long way to propelling South African golf into a global powerhouse.

Quality players competing week in, week out continues to drive the standard higher, and it rightfully leaves local golf fans encouraged for the future.

Of course, this isn’t good news for everyone. So many gifted golfers trying to make it on Tour mean that some inevitably fall by the wayside. One such campaigner is Ryan Strauss. Well, almost.

Based in Cape Town, Strauss enjoyed a distinguished junior and amateur career before turning pro in early 2011. He made the cuts in his first two tournaments as a professional, and the decision appeared to be vindicated.

But the harsh realities of playing on one of the most competitive tours in the world soon set in.

He was to make just two more cuts that year, and a 96th-place finish in the Order of Merit meant he faced the unenviable task of having to pre-qualify for nearly every event in 2012. It did not go well.

He made just two cuts all year, and with total earnings of less than R12 000, he was forced to go back to Qualifying School to regain his card for 2013.

“Last year was just completely demoralising,” Strauss recalled. “You know that you can hit a golf ball, but on the day you aren’t making decent contact, and when you’re around the greens you’re not getting up and down when you know you should.

“The key is just patience – it was really hard to go week to week missing pre-q’s; and missing cuts when I did get into events. It was tough to stay focused and I found it hard to actually come back and feel like I wanted to play the game.”

But he did come back, and he was right to. In the pressure-filled cauldron of Qualifying School, the 27-year old emerged with his playing card for 2013.

He would still face the daunting task of pre-qualifying for events, but he’d given himself a chance.

And two weeks later, Strauss took that chance with both hands. He pre-qualified for the Telkom PGA Pro-Am at Centurion Country Club, and it was to set the tone for a magical week.

A 68 in the first round was well backed up by a 66 in the second, and he found himself in unchartered territory on the fringes of the top 10. But it got better.

Birdies came thick and fast in the final round, and he suddenly found himself in contention.

Three birdies in the final five holes was a demonstration of class under the most severe of pressure, and he signed for an impressive 64.

It wasn’t enough, as his more-hailed colleague Oliver Bekker beat him by two strokes, but the finish in a share of second place was more than Strauss could have hoped for.

“That week in Centurion was massive. I think it was the best feeling I’ve ever had – just to know that I can compete with the best golfers in South Africa. That’s what I had to wait for, and eventually it came right.

“The week was awesome – I hit the ball well and I was getting the ball in the hole. I only made three drops all week,” Strauss noted.

“But it was just so nice to be out there under that proper tournament pressure when you’re in the hunt, even making the leader feel like he needs to concentrate hard,” he added.

The finish also earned him entry into the co-sanctioned Joburg and Africa Opens, and it was a chance to display his skills on the grand stage.

Two disappointing rounds at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club saw him miss the cut, but he’s put right those wrongs at East London Golf Club this week.

On Thursday, he posted a 71 in windy conditions. But, with the pressures of trying to make a cut, his 71 in the second round was arguably more impressive, and his two-under score of 142 at the halfway mark guarantees the Capetonian some prize money in the lucrative €1 million event.

More importantly, it proved that Centurion was no fluke, and that Strauss can rightfully rub shoulders with some of Europe’s finest players.

“You know what, when you’re guaranteed a pay cheque, you can chill a little bit. But there is still a lot of work to do. There are still two rounds left and I’m six shots off second place at the moment, so you never know what can happen over the weekend.

“I’m still trying to settle into it. It’s hard, but I definitely feel like I’ve got the game. When I’m playing nicely, I know I can compete although some of the scores these guys are shooting in the wind are just crazy!

“I wouldn’t say that I feel like I’ve arrived, but things are definitely going in the right direction. I’m just taking it one event at a time, one shot at a time. I just hope I can keep improving,” he said.

The concession from Strauss that there is a long way to go is applicable to both this tournament and his career.

But, as is the case with many careers, every successful golfer needs their break. Don’t be too surprised if that week in January turns out to be Strauss’s.

Article: Michael Todt/ MWP Media

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