Unheralded Almero Theron defeated tournament favourite Ryan Dreyer in a dramatic play-off to lift the South African Mid-Amateur Stroke Play Championship title at Sun City on Friday.
In just his second start on the national mid-amateur circuit, the 30-year-old ‘rookie’ from Heron Banks Golf Club landed mid-amateur golf’s biggest prize when he parred the third extra hole at the Gary Player Country Club to triumph.
The Free State golfer began the final round four strokes behind Dreyer, mixed three bogeys with three birdies over the last 18 holes but, while Dreyer had the same number of drops and gains, double bogeys at the par five ninth and the par four 17th proved too costly.
The former number one kept his advantage going until the penultimate hole, where he parked his tee shot against the 18 tee box and he mailed his second over the island green and into the lake. The resulting double bogey at 17 handed Theron a one shot lead going down 18.
However, Theron’s par putt to win came up short and he signed for 72. Dreyer boxed his clutch par putt to push the championship into overtime with a 76 that tied Theron at three-over-par 291.
“At the first extra hole, I missed a four-footer for birdie to win,” Theron said. “Then Ryan missed his chance when his birdie putt to win just edged past the hole on the second trip down the ninth. I holed an eight-footer for par to keep the play-off alive and they took us back to 18 for the third play-off hole.
“Ryan hit his drive down the middle and I hit the best hybrid of the week down the left to finish 30 metres past him in the first cut. The pin was on the right in the traditional Sunday spot of the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Ryan’s hybrid flew the bunker on the right and my seven-iron landed middle green.
“When we got to the green, Ryan’s ball was in the rough. It’s a very tough spot to play from to that pin, because it’s almost impossible to stop the ball. The ball shot out and released and he had a 15-footer left to save par. I had a 30 metre uphill putt for birdie and I lagged it just short of the hole. When Ryan missed his par putt, I just had to knock mine in for the win.”
Theron turned 30 in February and became eligible to campaign on the national mid-amateur circuit. He celebrated his debut with a third place finish in the Free State Mid-Amateur Open, finishing one shot behind Dreyer at his home course.
“I had great respect for Ryan and I knew going up against him,” said Theron. “A former pro who has won a string of mid-amateur titles and a former number one was going to be tough to beat. The only thing I felt I had going for me was that all the pressure was on him. I didn’t have anything to lose.”
Theron said he came to Sun City with zero expectations.
“I am so new at this that when I entered the SA Mid-Amateur Stroke Play, I didn’t have a clue how big and how prestigious this championship was until I got to Sun City,” said the stunned champion. “I paid the R500 entry fee with a smile just to play five rounds at my favourite course. Now I am standing here with the trophy in my hands.
“I was an eighth grader when I first laid eyes on this course and it’s my absolute favourite. When I volunteered here as a Marshall during the Nedbank Golf Challenge, I studied the pros. I watched how they played the course. I came into this week wanting to see how I would handle it, because I knew they would set it up more or less like they do for the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
“Suddenly I am in the last group. My only thought before the last round was that I didn’t want a repeat of the third round. I didn’t notice that the tee box at 10 was moved. I hit the wrong club off the tee and ended up in the bush. I made a huge number (10) and Ryan had 10 shots on me after I dropped 11 as well.
“I really had to grind over the last seven holes for a 72, so my strategy I had for the last round was to play conservatively. Stay out of trouble and keep it in play. You’re going to drop a shot somewhere, but if I had to lose, it had to be with the best score I could shoot.
“To be standing here holding the SA Mid-Amateur Stroke Play trophy is mad; it’s unbelievable. I can’t even say it’s a dream come true, because I didn’t dream in a million years that I could win.”
The victory catapulted Almero to eighth and the runner-up finish moved Dreyer to second, while third on 298 vaulted two-time winner this season Kevin Sharp from Modderfontein Golf Club to the number one spot in the Mid-Amateur Rankings.
And, while two-time champion Gerlou Roux missed out on a hat-trick of titles, the Western Province did have something to celebrate on the last day when he hit the sweetest six-iron from 172 metres to ace the par-three 12th.
Final Result (top 20)
291 Almero Theron 73 74 72 72 (won 3rd playoff hole)
291 Ryan Dreyer 73 70 72 76
298 Kevin Sharp 73 79 74 72
301 Donovan Pearse 77 79 71 74; Elton James 76 75 77 73; Derek Scullard 71 80 78 72
302 Dylan Keylock 76 76 76 74; Greg Sheard 75 77 78 72; David Muller 75 73 79 75
303 Ernest Botha 74 77 82 70
305 Christo Peens 80 78 72 75; Gerlou Roux 78 76 72 79
306 Jauqo Jacobs 78 76 75 77
309 Ludwig Schreuder 74 84 79 72
310 Pieter Swartz 75 81 78 76; Leonard Loxton 75 77 82 76; Douglas Mc Cabe 73 84 78 75
311 Jaco Rall 82 79 80 70; Neil Homann 75 80 80 76
312 Dino De Abreu 72 83 80 77