The Star Late Edition

Van Tonder ... Mr Wonder?

- GRANT WINTER

A PRE-QUALIFIER for a golf tournament can often be something of a lottery for the participan­ts, especially when the odds are against you and it’s only one round as was the case in yesterday’s pre-q at Fish River, ahead of the € 1-million (about R10,5-million) Africa Open beginning tomorrow in East London Golf Club.

Yesterday 70 players were battling it out for just 10 spots in the main draw and, being only 18 holes, in circumstan­ces such as this a good player can have an off-day and miss out and a lesser player a good day and make the main draw so a pre-qualifier is not always a true reflection of ability.

On the other hand, a really gifted operator inevitably comes though and – judging by his heroics last year – one Danie van Tonder clearly falls into this latter category. So – even though the wind was pumping at Fish River – it was not surprising to see him post a two-under-par 70 yesterday to qualify second best for East London behind fellow South African Paul Bradshaw who was home in 69.

So what exactly were Van Tonder’s heroics last year? Well, in South Africa – at present solely in Gauteng – there’s something called the IGT Challenge Pro Golf Tour held annually. It’s primarily a developmen­t tour for would-be profession­als and young profession­als who do not yet have playing privileges for the Sunshine Tour, although anyone can take part in their tournament­s – as the likes of Jean Hugo and Darren Fichardt did last year on weeks off from the main tour, just to keep a competitiv­e edge.

The IGT concept takes place elsewhere in the world, including the US, and the idea is for the competitor­s to each put in a certain sum of money and collective­ly this forms the purse for a tournament.

In SA, it’s R1 200 to enter so if 50 players are taking part there’s R60 000 up for grabs and the winner gets the biggest slice of the pudding. In 2011 there were 26 events held in Gauteng, of which Van Tonder entered 20 and – here’s the heroics – he won an amazing 10 of them. That kind of win ratio just doesn’t usually happen in a game like golf. He started off in the first tournament of the year at Germiston CC in which he totalled 18-under-par 270 to win by a mammoth 15 shots. And he ended the season at Blue Valley with a 16-under-par return of 272 to win by four.

In between he posted victories at Magalies Park, Akasia, Mooi Nooi, Ebotse, Kempton Park, Services, Pretoria GC and Crown Mines. For those 10 wins – and it should be noted that four of the 10 were 54-hole events and one just 36 holes – he was, in total, 123under par. That is incredibly good and consistent golf over an extended period. He also finished second twice, just one behind the winner. And all this comes after a 2010 when he was ranked South Africa’s No 1 amateur and won a bunch of tournament­s.

He did leave the amateur game under a cloud after being selected for his country, which explains why he was unable to try for his Sunshine Tour card for 2011.

But in the 2012 Sunshine Tour QSchool he sailed through and he now has playing privileges for this year, although – until he establishe­s himself – he will have to pre-q for big events like the Africa Open which is co-sanctioned by the European and Sunshine Tours.

One does get a sneaky suspicion, though, that Van Tonder – he’s only 20 – is going to be a big player on the fairways of South Africa and elsewhere in years to come. With his swashbuckl­ing play he reminds me of a young Arnold Palmer. Hang on.

Slow down Grant. I musn’t get ahead of myself. Golf ’s too unpredicta­ble for that. Let’s just say it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the name Danie van Tonder.

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