12th February 2017 | Sunshine Tour
Van Rooyen pulls off Eye of Africa play-off victory
Erik van Rooyen hit his approach to inside a foot in the first hole of a three-way play-off on Sunday to set himself up for birdie and victory in the R1.5-million Eye of Africa PGA Championship.
He finished regulation play with a birdie on 18 too, to finish on 16-under for the tournament together with Dylan Frittelli and Makhetha Mazibuko, who narrowly missed a par-putt on 18 in regulation which would have given him the victory. Last year’s runner-up Dean Burmester finished fourth after a disappointing round of one-over 73.
“The 18th is not an easy hole,” said Van Rooyen. “I didn’t really plan to stiff it with my second in the play-off. My plan was to hit where I hit it in regulation, because that’s just the middle of the green. You need to give yourself a chance, especially after I saw where Makhetha hit his ball in the bunker. I knew par might have a chance. But my approach drew back so nicely and it almost went in. It was fantastic.”
The victory was the first in his Sunshine Tour career which stretches back to 2013 when he gained his card at the Qualifying School. “It’s hard to describe,” he said of his feelings after the win. “I’ve worked really hard with a big group of people – sports psychologists, a trainer, a swing coach, whatever – for the last 10 or 15 years, and to finally get the win…
“I’ve been in there a few times in the last few years that I’ve been on the Sunshine Tour, and I think today I really held my composure nicely. I think that’s where I slipped up in the past. But today, I got it done and now the emotions are boiling over a little.”
The fact of the matter was that he kept his composure throughout the tournament, rather than just in the final round. “I played some very consistent golf – 69-68-68-67 – so I knew that my game was there,” he said. “The other guys played well. Dylan shot eight-under on Saturday, which was unbelievable golf, but I was in there with a chance. Obviously, Dean was the man to catch with the unbelievable golf he has been playing lately. I guess it comes down to the back nine on Sunday and I was there. I threw my name in the hat, and I got it done.”
Behind him, Mazibuko came agonisingly close to pulling off what would have been an amazing victory. A product of the SA Golf Development Board’s efforts in the Free State, and then of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, and latterly the Sunshine Tour’s Gary Player Class of 2017 initiative, his game withstood the rigours of the week as he announced himself as someone who will break through soon.
Likewise Frittelli, who played so well over the weekend, only to see his chances of winning evaporate with a poor tee shot on the play-off hole.
For Van Rooyen, there are three important tournament to look forward to: next week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am, followed by the Joburg Open and the Tshwane Open, co-sanctioned by the European Tour, which give him a chance of playing his way onto the international circuit.
“I’m looking forward to the upcoming stretch of tournaments,” he said. “I’ve prepared so well. I’ve played Royal Johannesburg and Pretoria Country Club many times in the last three weeks, so I’m well prepared for those events. Obviously this win will give me a huge confidence-boost. But, you know, you always think you can do it before you actually do it, and then you know you can do it. So to know that I can do it, that I’ve got the game to win, I’ve got the mental side to win, is awesome.”