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Neil Looks To Break Through In South Africa

by Colin Callander - February 17, 2014

Scotland’s Bradley Neil will be hoping to make it a case of third time lucky when he tees up in the Sanlam South African Amateur Championship at Hermanus Golf Club on the Cape South Coast.

The 18-year-old reigning Scottish Boys’ champion finished third at the recent Gauteng North Open and then tied for second at the South African Open Amateur Stroke Play. He’ll now be looking to go one better in a championship that has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Scots for the past three years.

Troon’s Michael Stewart got the ball rolling back when he defeated Paul Shfields by 5 and 4 in the first all-Scottish final in the history of the championship in 2011. Twelve months later Leven Golf Society’s Brian Souter joined him in the winner’s circle when he defeated rising 18-year-old South African star Brandon Stone by 2 and 1 in the 36-hole final at Mowbray Golf Club in Cape Town.

Last year Ewan Scott battled all the way through to the semifinals before losing to Andrew Light. National coach Ian Rae is confident Neil is in good enough form to emulate his great friend and rival.

“I think a win is just around the corner for him,” predicted Rae. “Two top 3s is a great start to the year.”

Rae also is encouraged by the fact that a total of six Scottish players younger than age 21 finished in the top 32 at the recent South African Stroke Play Championship at Benoni Country Club and all are on hand at Hermanus to extend their country’s success in an event which counts both Ernie Els and Retief Goosen among its former winners.

Scott misses out on this year’s championship because he is now on a golf scholarship at the University of Tennessee, but Neil is joined by British Boys’ champion Ewen Ferguson (Bearsden), who finished in a tie for 19th at Benoni, as well as by Scott Gibson (Southerness), Jamie Savage (Cawder), Robert MacIntyre (Glencruitten) and Connor Syme (Dumfries & County), all of whom were placed inside the top 32 in the same championship.

The Scottish contingent at Hermanus also includes Ben Kinsley (St Andrews) and Daniel Young (Craigiehill), while England’s hopes rest with Worthing’s Toby Tree, who won the Gauteng North Open in both 2012 and 2013 and who reached the third round of last year’s South African Amateur before losing on the 20th hole to eventual winner Thriston Lawrence.

Twelve months ago, Lawrence became the youngest winner of his national amateur match play title at the age of just 16 years, two months and 26 days. The Mpumalanga teenager has been in fine form in the lead up to his defence having won the KwaZulu Natal Stroke Play, finishing second behind Keegan de Lange at the Gauteng North Open, and fourth at the Prince’s Grant Invitational. A couple of weeks ago he also shared victory with three junior teammates in a test match against a strong French select team at Serengeti.

Lawrence and Neil are by no means the only form horses in this year’s field. They will be up against South Africa No. 1 Zander Lombard, plus Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who came second to Lawrence in the KwaZulu Natal Stroke Play and then won the Free State GU Open Amateur Stroke Play, and 19-year-old Jason Smith, who held off Neil and the rest of the strong international field to claim the South African Stroke Play title just more than a week ago.

The South African Amateur starts Feb. 23 with the first of two qualifying rounds before the qualifiers join the exempt players in the 64-strong field for the match play stages starting Feb. 25.

Scotland’s Savage emerged undefeated as his country warmed up for the South African Amateur Championship by finishing second in a triangular test match against the South African Golf Association’s Junior Team and the South African Golf Development Board at Randpark Golf Club.

The 19-year-old Cawder player won both his singles and won one and halved the other of his foursomes as the Scottish squad beat the SAGDB, 7½-4½, but lost, 7-5, to the SAGAJT. The latter completed victory in the team event by claiming a comprehensive 10-2 victory against their fellow countrymen on the SAGDB team.

Savage was one of three Scottish players to win both their singles matches the triangular test, the others being Craigie Hill’s Daniel Young and reigning British Boys’ champion Ferguson from Bearsden. Both accumulated 2½ points for their team’s cause.

Eighteen-year-old Syme from Dumfries & County won both foursomes in tandem with 17-year-old Kinsley and also won one singles to claim three points out of four.

The SGU National Squad’s next assignment was in Soweto where they got a first-hand look at the work being done by the SA Golf Development Board.

The team spent two hours with youngsters in the SAGDB programme at the Soweto Country Club and came away enthused with what they saw.

“I didn’t actually know what to expect, but I was really impressed,” said Savage. “There were a few really talented kids out there and we saw some great swings.”

Savage and his teammates first let the youngsters show them their prowess on the putting green before moving to the driving range. The kids, all aged between 10 and 12, came from the nearby Botsogele Primary School.

“They all seemed to be loving it,” added Savage. “It was great to see them having fun, and we enjoyed ourselves too. This seems like a great programme.”

The Scottish squad’s final appearance before the South African Amateur is the annual test match against the full South African team. It is played Tuesday and Wednesday at Leopard Creek.

Scotland’s Grant Forrest made his mark on the other side of the Atlantic when he closed with a 71 before defeating Kennesaw State’s Jimmy Beck in a sudden-death playoff at the Farms Collegiate Invite tournament in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

The 20-year-old Forrest, from Craigielaw, who won the 2012 Scottish Amateur Championship and currently is in his third year at the University of San Diego, got up and down out of a greenside bunker on the final hole of regulation play to tie his American opponent on 6-under-par 210 and then beat him with a birdie on the first extra hole. His performance also helped San Diego to win the team award.

Forrest’s victory was his first on the collegiate circuit since last season when he won the WCC Championship.

England’s Stephen East made an impressive start to his career in the senior amateur ranks when closed with a battling 74 in treacherous conditions to win the Spanish International Senior Men’s Championship at La Manga.

The 55-year-old from Moortown in Leeds carded rounds of 84, 76 and 74 to finish a single shot ahead of Moor Park’s John Ambridge with Scottish international Ian Brotherston closing with an impressive 72 to claim third spot on 237. Angel Macías was the leading Spanish player in fourth place two shots further behind.

East can look forward to making a name for himself in the senior ranks after a fine career during which he has won one British and three English Mid-Amateur titles. He was also runner-up to France’s François Illouz at the 2009 European Mid- Amateur Championship.

Brotherston had come into the men’s individual event on a bit of a high after teaming with Germany’s Kai Flint to win the Spanish Senior Men’s Doubles Championship with rounds of 75 and 73. That gave the duo a singleshot victory against Ambridge and Scotland’s Douglas Cameron.

East and partner, Trevor Gray, compiled rounds of 76 and 74 to finish third one shot in front of Irish duo, Adrian Morrow and Maurice Kelly.

Jordan Smith came up just one shot short of earning a place in last week’s Asian Tour Final Qualifying School at Hua Hin in Thailand.

The English Walker Cup player, from Bowood Golf & Country Club in Wiltshire, seemed all set to make the field for the final after opening with rounds of 75, 68 and 67 in his Stage 1 qualifying event at Imperial Lakeview but then slumped to a closing 77 to miss out by the narrowest of margins on 1-under-par 287.

The current holder of the Brabazon Trophy indicated his frustration by tweeting “AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!” to his followers. Smith’s last round hiccup means that he has failed to make the grade at this year’s European, South African and Asian Tour Qualifying Schools and he now is expected to return to the amateur game for the time being at least.

He is among a large group of English internationals to have entered next week’s Spanish International Men’s Amateur Championship at La Reserva where Ireland’s Reeve Whitson will be defending the title he won at La Manga 12 months ago.

Roy Smethurst, arguably England’s most successful senior amateur golfer, has been announced as the winner of the Gerald Micklem Award for 2013.

The award is giving annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to English amateur golf.

Smethurst, a 71-year-old retired computer consultant from Crewe, has been Cheshire County champion four times and Cheshire Senior County champion on 10 occasions, including six in a row from 1998.

He made his debut for England during a youths’ match against Scotland back in 1962 but it is as a senior he has made his biggest mark, winning the British Seniors’ Championship in 2003, the European Seniors Championship in 2005 and the English Seniors Championship on four separate occasions. He also won four silver medals at leading amateur at the Senior British Open, reached the semifinals of the US Senior Amateur Championship in 2003 and has claimed two French Senior Over-65 titles.

“I’m amazed at getting this award but also delighted,” said Smethurst. “Basically, I’m accepting it on behalf of English senior golfers. I wouldn’t have got it if it hadn’t been for the rest of my senior colleagues.

“Over the last 10 years we have established senior golf in England with success in the Home Internationals and in Europe,” he added. “It has been a privilege to have played with the guys over the past 15 or so years.”

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