7th April 2019 | Sunshine Tour
Stunning Ritchie eagle brings Zanaco Masters play-off win
He fought his way into a play-off with an incredible eagle on the last hole of regulation play on Sunday, and then JC Ritchie made an unlikely birdie on the first play-off hole to take a thrilling victory in the Zanaco Masters at Lusaka Golf Club.
He drew level with Rhys Enoch of Wales with that eagle, and then survived an excursion into the hospitality marquee at the par-five 18th in the play-off to sink a nine-footer for birdie and take his fourth Sunshine Tour title after a roller-coaster of a final round in which Enoch appeared to have the upper hand for most of the day.
“I backed off the approach to 18 in regulation play,” said Ritchie. “I had 174 to the flag and I was straight in between an eight and a nine. I asked my caddie, ‘Am I trying to make birdie or am I trying to win the tournament?’ We decided that if I jumped on a nine-iron, I could get it there. We could cover the bunker and I absolutely flushed it straight at the pin. It was all or nothing at that point.
“The play-off was tricky. I didn’t think I had a chance after Rhys hit his drive miles up the fairway – it was probably 70 yards by me. I had an extra 40 metres further than I had in regulation play. After putting it in the tent, I just tried to give myself a chance because I’m putting really well. I feel for Rhys three-putting the last, because that’s not the way you want to win it, but that’s the way it goes.”
Enoch had played the front nine as well as anyone in the final round, turning in two-under 33 without dropping a shot, while Ritchie had made three bogeys and a birdie to find the overnight lead he had held had evaporated into nothing.
“Today was the weirdest round of golf I’ve played in a while,” said Ritchie. “It just felt as if it didn’t want to go my way for the front nine. I was hitting the ball so well. I felt like I didn’t miss a shot and made three bogeys from nowhere.
“Then I really just got on a run and it seemed to fall into place on the back nine. I was five-under after the 15th and I was playing really nicely.
“Then on 16, we had a bit of a mix-up with the wind and the club. A huge gust of wind came up and I dumped it in the water. I thought it was pretty much done and I thought Rhys was going to get it to 19-under, as he was playing such good golf today. I missed a short birdie putt on 17 and I really didn’t think I had another chance.
“Making eagle with that pin on 18 was a big ask. Lots of guys were saying I am one of the only guys this week who could stop it at that pin, so to be able to pull that shot off and to make the putt – I don’t have words.”
Rookie Garrick Higgo capped a fine tournament with a closing four-under 69 to share third with England’s Chris Cannon, who closed with a three-under 70.
For Ritchie, if you include the Team Championships which he won with Jaco Strydom, this was the fourth victory in nine months, and his second in the space of the last month – he took the Sun Carnival City Challenge in August, the Limpopo Championship at the beginning of March and now this one in Zambia for his second title outside South Africa after his maiden victory in Zimbabwe in 2017.
“Africa has been an absolute blessing to me,” he said. “Every time I come out here, I feel at home. The fans are amazing. I love Africa – I’ll always keep coming back.”