It came on the 480-metre par-five 14th at Lusaka Golf Club on April 22. CJ du Plessis chipped in for eagle on his way to a six-under-par 67 in a flawless second round, and that changed the course of his 2016 season.
Before that tournament – the Zambia Sugar Open – Du Plessis had missed six consecutive cuts and broken 70 in tournament play just once. The outlook for the 25-year-old Centurion-based professional was bleak.
“Just one chip-in changed everything for me,” says Du Plessis as he gets a social round under his belt at Zwartkop Country Club ahead of next week’s KCM Zambia Open at Nchanga Golf Club. “That got me going. The next day I played really well, and my mind-set was completely changed – the possibilities seemed endless.”
And so they were: He followed his second place in Lusaka behind Swede Christofer Blomstrand with a solid share of 23rd in the Investec Royal Swazi Open – tournament played with a modified stableford scoring system – and then, back in Swaziland last week, he lost on the fifth play-off hole to Merrick Bremner in the Lombard Insurance Classic.
“In Swaziland, I played really well,” he says. “I set myself a target of 25 birdies during the week, and I made 20 and two eagles. So one more birdie would have done it for me.”
And so he finds himself in 37th position on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, higher than he has ever been, and with more prize money to his name than he has earned in a single year since he turned professional in 2013.
“I got myself back to my roots,” says Du Plessis. “I switched back to my old coach, Ray Earl from Polokwane. I just felt I had been working on the wrong things for quite a while, so I was losing belief in myself.”
He travels to Zambia for next week’s tournaments as one of the form players on the Sunshine Tour, but with no illusions as to what it will take for him to break through for a maiden professional victory. “I can’t go with huge expectations,” he says. “It’s a matter of being lucky during the week. I need those lip-outs to go in, the shots that hit the flag to stop close to the hole… But once I break the ice, I believe things will start happening.”