By FOCUS REPORTER
Sporting legends including footballers were amongst the 240 amateur and professional golfers who teed off at the Joburg Open Pro-Am held at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on Wednesday, January 12.
Among the well known figures included the likes of Mark Fish, Brian Tlale, Phil Venter and Marc Batchelor, SA Olympic swimming gold medallist Roland Schoeman and Lions Rugby Union lock/flank Franco van der Merve who displayed their other sporting skill on a golf course.
While the professionals used the day as a practice round ahead of the tournament starting tomorrow, the amateurs were happy to be teeing up alongside some of the top pro golfers in the world.
The former Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates defender, Fish had one of his better days on the course: “I played well, although I didn’t drive the ball very well, but my recoveries were good. I was fortunate to have Hennie Otto in my fourball – he shot an 8 under. That was very impressive. It was very enjoyable to watch a professional play to that standard,” says Fish who manages to play at least twice a month.
Roland Schoeman had an “awesome day” with English pro Seve Benson and their fourball partners, saying that it was an honour to play with a pro.
“Watching a professional make a shot is just so different in real life. They swing so smoothly, unlike me, I’ll just bludgeon the ball and see what happens. Unlike swimming, where you’re head down in the water, playing golf is social and interactive,” said Schoeman, who started playing golf seven years ago while residing in Arizona. Schoeman took some of his first golf lessons from SA pro Anton Haig’s coach, Jaime Gough.
Former Orlando Pirates player Phil Venter who teamed up with Australian pro Daniel Gaunt said: “My golf wasn’t exactly up to scratch today, but playing with Daniel Gaunt and our partners made up for it, as it turned out to be a fantastic day on the West Course.”
Lions rugby lock, Franco van der Merve enjoyed his first experience playing with a pro golfer: “All I can say, is a professional golfer knows how to handle when the pressure is on. My driving was good today and on two occasions I actually managed out-drove Sam Little. Despite this he was kind enough to offer me some tips which really helped me,” laughed van der Merve.
Former Sundowns striker, Marc Batchelor enjoyed a lot of banter with his fourball which included rising professional star, South African Thomas Aiken.
“We had so much fun with a lot of banter going on between the guys. I really enjoyed playing the East Course this year. Watching Thomas strike the ball was amazing. He shot about five birdies and if he plays like that on the weekend, he’s going to do very well in the tournament,” said Batchelor.
With the social side of the Joburg Open Pro Am out of the way, it’s down to the serious business of the tournament when the professionals line up at the tee box at 06h30 tomorrow morning.
Joburg City Manager, Mr Mavela A.V. Dlamini, who played with Charl Schwartzel was full of praise for defending champion: “Charl shows immense patience and character during the game. Our fourball had great fun out there today, but it will be much more serious for him and the other professionals when they return to the course tomorrow morning. I wish all the players the very best for the tournament.”
The tournament takes place from 13 to 16 January and is open to the public, with tickets costing just R30 daily, or R80 for the tournament, available at the gate.
The Joburg Open will be broadcast on SuperSport from Thursday to Sunday, from 12 mid-day to 4pm.