Just a few weeks into her summer break from the Florida Institute of Technology in the United States, college freshman Mae Cornforth cruised to victory in the Limpopo Championship at Koro Creek Bushveld Golf Estate in June.
Cornforth won the North West Open at Goldfields West in March last year before she set off to Florida to take up a golf scholarship in Communication Science at FIT. However, things did not go to plan.
After a year out of competitive golf, the Potchefstroom star was understandably pleased to add to her haul of silverware.
“I don’t think anyone knows how much this victory means me,” Cornforth said. “To come home and win in my first provincial start validates all the disappointment, sacrifice and hard work of the last 12 months in the United States.”
Shortly after Cornforth’s arrival at FIT, she learned that her high school qualifications did not meet the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) standards and she was not allowed to compete in tournaments. It was a huge blow for the young amateur, who left for Florida with dreams of playing her way on to the LPGA Tour.
“The NCAA regulate all sport, including golf, at college level in the USA and they have a very strict list of requirements,” Cornforth explained.
“Unfortunately I didn’t take science as a subject in high school and had to sit out my first year. It really sucked, because I have a major dream and to lose an entire year was a huge disappointment.
“I was able to train with the golf team, though, so I decided to treat the year as a period of adjustment. I studied like a demon and I did the entire programme with the Panthers. It all worked out well for me, because my grades are up to the NCAA standard and I will be joining the team this year.
“I did not play a single tournament for a year, though. That’s why winning the Limpopo Championship was so special. It validated all that hard work and made the sacrifices worth it.”
Cornforth started for the North West team in the 72-Hole Teams Championship at the end of May shortly after her return to South Africa.
“I was definitely not at my best in East London, but the 72-Hole definitely helped me ease back into competition mode,” she said. “I was still a little shaky at the Limpopo Championship two weeks later, but the rust was starting to come off.”
Cornforth opened her campaign at Koro Creek with a big number and lagged four strokes behind first round pacesetter Woo-Ju Son, who fired a 73.
The 14-year-old Gauteng junior shot 76 in the second round for a two-stroke advantage, but Cornforth carded a 74 to close the gap and tie for second on 151 with Ekurhuleni’s Sarah Bouch, who carded rounds of 76 and 75.
She closed with a patient 71 for a four stroke victory on six-over-par 222.
Bouch carded a 75 to finish in second, two strokes clear of former Sanlam SA Amateur Stroke Play champion Carrie Park (75-80-73). Son shot 81 to tie for fourth on 14 over with Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation member Zethu Myeki (76-77-77).
“We work really hard on the mental side of the game at FIT and I’ve definitely come a long way in that respect,” Cornforth said.
“Sarah was making a lot of birdies on the front nine, but my putts were not dropping and I had to stay very patient. I made the shots that counted and slowly pulled away. I three-putted the 18th, but overall I was really pleased with my performance.”
Cornforth plans to compete in a few more events on the Women’s Golf South Africa circuit before she returns to Florida to start her sophomore year.