A Crazy Week
J C Ritchie scored a surprise maiden victory at the Zimbabwe Open – first event of the 2017/18 Sunshine Tour season.
ON MAKING A NINE ON OPENING HOLE AT ZIMBABWE OPEN I hit two balls out of bounds at Royal Harare on the first hole on day one, both big pull hooks. I made nine and was seven-over-par through seven holes. But I was strangely calm, and actually told my playing partners as I left the first green what a funny story it would be if I went on to win! At the ninth I holed out for an eagle two from 186 metres with a 6-iron which set the tone for a crazy week where I was to make 27 birdies along with that eagle.
ON LEARNING TO EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED After opening with a 74 I shot 67-67 to trail Trevor Fisher by five shots through 54 holes. On the first hole of the final round I had to blast out sideways from a greenside bunker, but then holed my chip for par and went on to shoot a bogey-free 64 (31-33).As I signed my card Trevor Fisher had just eagled the par-5 16th to move two ahead, so I started packing up my bag.Then I was told he had made double-bogey on 17. I went to the practice green alone and began mentally preparing for a playoff – which I won with a birdie on the second extra hole. (Ritchie’s previous best finish on tour had been a T-3 in the 2015 Zimbabwe Open at Royal Harare.)
ON A TIMELY PUTTER CHANGE At the Dimension Data Pro-Am at Fancourt in February I metWiestaw Kramski, the designer and owner of Kramski Putters.We had a two-hour fitting session and I was given a mallet model to try out for a few events. I’d been struggling with my putting for a long time but everything seemed to click with the Kramski, ultimately with victory in Zimbabwe.These custom-made putters range in price from R5 500 to R21 000, but I think there is going to be a ‘sponsorship arrangement’ in place soon.Well, at least I hope there is!
ON A DIFFICULT DECISION TO CHANGE COACHES I’d been part of the Graeme Francis Golf Academy in Centurion for seven years before making one of the hardest decisions of my life. Graeme was my first and only coach, but I reached a stage where I wanted to see if someone else had a different opinion about my game.We split after the DiData and I began working with John Dickson at The Els Club.
ON TURNING PRO DESPITE A LIMITED AMATEUR RECORD I didn’t have much of an amateur record – two Junior Interprovincial appearances for Gauteng North – but my family agreed I could take a year off after matriculating from Southdowns College to play golf full time. A family friend who owns an earth-moving company sponsored my living costs and I set out to play the IGT Tour in 2013.
ON TOUGHENING UP ON THE IGT TOUR The IGT Tour’s slogan, ‘Where good players become tour players,’ is apt for my progression in the game. I definitely wouldn’t be where I was today if I hadn’t grinded it out on the IGT Tour. There are a lot of good players there and it’s fiercely competitive. It’s also a good way to stay sharp when the Sunshine Tour schedule is sparse. Graeme Francis put up the money for my first entry fee and told me to keep going until I missed a cut. I managed to play in seven consecutive events. Having missed my Sunshine Tour card in 2013 (+12 for 72 holes), I returned a year later and finished third at Q School (10-under for 90 holes). Celebrations after the Zimbabwe Open playoff.
ON BEING NAMED AFTER A FORMULA 1 DRIVER My full name is Juan-Carlo, and my dad named me after Italian racing driver Giancarlo Fisichella. My family are motor industry enthusiasts – owning four Ford dealerships – and we love watching racing. I’d like to try it myself one day.
ON THE ONE RULE CHANGE GOLF NEEDS We should be allowed to tap down spike marks on the green.
ON A DREAM FOURBALL MATCH Tiger, Jack, Seve and me at Augusta National.