2023 SDC Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
THERE will be a strong South African presence at the SDC Championship at the magnificent St Francis Links this week.
They include Thriston Lawrence, Shaun Norris, the prodigiously talented Wilco Nienaber, Zander Lombard, Brandon Stone, Darren Fichardt and Oliver Bekker.
Many pundits believe that Nienaber could become a superstar. He was a gifted amateur, representing South Africa at the 2018 Eisnerhower Trophy. He made his DP World Tour debut at the South African Open at Randpark Golf Club in 2018, where he opened with two rounds of 69 to make the cut.
Nienaber turned professional in 2019 and made his professional debut at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek where he finished tied 24th.
In February 2020, also in his homeland of South Africa, he came close to his first professional win, finishing runner-up in the Limpopo Championship on the Challenge Tour, and in August he had his first top-10 finish on the DP World Tour, finishing fourth at the Hero Open at the Forest of Arden. He grabbed the headlines with his huge hitting from the tee.
In the second round of the Joburg Open at Randpark in November 2020, Nienaber hit his drive on the 597-yard, par-five fourth hole an incredible 439 yards. He eventually finished in second place; two shots behind Joachim B Hansen and reached a career best 209th on the Official World Golf Ranking.
In May 2021, Nienaber claimed his first professional victory at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, beating Henric Sturehed in a playoff.
His natural talent is not in doubt, but Nienaber failed to keep his DP World Tour card last season. He is quite clearly still finding his way and needs to harness his power if he is to live up to his undoubted potential.
The favourite this week is likely to be Lawrence, a three-time winner on the DP World Tour. He claimed his maiden victory in the weather-shortened Joburg Open in 2021, a tournament that was reduced to 36 holes. He silenced the doubters when he also won the European Masters last year and then added the South African Open in December, climbing to 64th place in the world rankings.
Lawrence is no overnight success. The 26-year-old turned professional in 2014 and plied his trade on the MENA Tour, winning the order of merit in 2015. He played on the Big Easy Tour in 2018, gaining his card for the 2019-20 Sunshine Tour. And in 2019 he won his first Sunshine Tour title, the Vodacom Origins of Golf, in 2019. His victory at the Joburg Open secured his card for the DP World Tour and last year he was named Rookie of the Year.
Nienaber would do well to sit down and talk to Lawrence because there is little doubt that he has the game to become a prolific winner - he just needs to work out how to do that. And this week would be a good place to get his career back on track.
Thriston Lawrence has developed into one of South Africa’s very best golfers, and he just loves playing in his homeland. He will fancy his chances this week.
St Francis Links was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in in 2007. He described it as one of the best courses he has put his name to. It is a par 72 and measures 7,192 yards.
Thriston Lawrence. Very impressive
Darren Fichardt. One of the best putters on tour
Wilco Nienaber. Hits the ball a country mile
Five to Follow:
Thriston Lawrence. Full of confidence
Darren Fichardt. Due a good week
Wilco Nienaber. Needs to find a way to harness his power
Shaun Norris. Inconsistent but at his best can compete with anybody
Zander Lombard. Goes about his business quietly
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