The 2016 Order of Merit race continues in 2017.
The 2016 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit didn’t end with the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December, as it usually does, but will only be concluded on March 2 following the Tshwane Open at Pretoria Country Club.
Brandon Stone would have normally clinched the Order of Merit title with his runaway victory at Leopard Creek, but that No 1 spot is still up for grabs, as three cosanctioned events – SA Open, Joburg Open andTshwane Open – plus two other tournaments, the Eye of Africa PGA and DiData Pro-Am, remain to be played before the summer is over.
Future seasons will begin in April and end in March, in order to create a more flowing and exciting finish to the Order of Merit. The Sunshine Tour wants the season to gradually build up to a climax with a series of all the high-profile tournaments, rather than begin with a few of them, as they have been doing since 2007.
“There are several good reasons for us changing the schedule back to how it used to be,” said Players Committee Chairman Alan Michell. “The Sunshine Tour is all about the summer season. Our big events take place between November and March, and we want this period to run as one season, not having a division right in the middle. It makes it more interesting for players and fans.
“Starting the season in January was also difficult for the new young professionals coming out of Q School.They had great difficulty getting into the co-sanctioned tournaments in January and February, which wasn’t ideal in terms of beginning their careers. Now the Q School will be in March, and those who get their Sunshine Tour cards will more easily get into the tournaments which kick off the new season in April.
“We also believe that having the Q School in March, rather than December, will attract more American and European players to our tour. If they get a card they can return here later in the year to play the entire summer while the northern hemisphere takes a break because of the weather.We are very conscious of marketing our tour overseas. Having quality overseas golfers competing here better prepares our own players, and these visitors will hopefully then go home and tell their friends about South Africa.”
Michell also pointed out that often the Order of Merit was decided early in the year by players getting off to a hot start in January and February.That took any excitement out of the Order of Merit race for the rest of the year.
Stone was the top Sunshine Tour performer in 2016, earning an official R6.6million in nine tournaments, plus R1.25 million for being runner-up in the Chase to Investec Cup bonus pool. His two wins were worth over R5 million, and he was runnerup in both the Investec Cup and Cape Town Open, while picking up a big cheque in the Mauritius Open for sixth place. He currently heads the Tour stroke averages with 69.13.
In total, including his European Tour earnings, the 23-year-old banked in the region of R15 million for the year.
If anyone is to catch Stone on the Order of Merit, that player wowuld need to win at least one of the remaining co-sanctioned tournaments, and additionally have a couple of high finishes. Richard Sterne and Haydn Porteous, with earnings of over R3 million in 2016, would be the most likely contenders.
Sterne ended 2016 on a high with second place in the Alfred Dunhill, while Porteous had a costly MC at Leopard Creek.
Another four players earned over R2 million in 2016 – Zander Lombard, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dean Burmester and Justin Walters – and they too would be in the reckoning.
Bezuidenhout is favoured to win Rookie of theYear honours, being almost R2 million ahead of his nearest rivals thanks to a runnerup finish in his first event of the year, the SA Open at Glendower.
The importance of doing well in the co-sanctioned European Tour events was underlined by the fact that the player with the most wins on the Sunshine Tour in 2016 – Jaco Ahlers had three – does not feature prominently on the Order of Merit as yet, being outside the top 10 with earnings of R1.12-million. Ahlers missed the cut in three of the five co-sanctioned outings, and his biggest cheque was R317 000 for victory in the Zambia Open.With the new extended season, though, he still has an opportunity to make a bigger impact before the summer is over.