20th June 2016 | Big Easy IGT Golf
Chef spices things up at Wingate Challenge
TSHWANE, 20 June 2016 – Rhys West and rookie Matthew Spacey were locked at the top of the IGT Tour’s Wingate Challenge until gastronome Alex van Heerden poached the first round lead with a birdie at 18 at Wingate Park Country Club on Monday.
Van Heerden put his home course advantage to great use on the back nine and was flushed with excitement after pushing one shot clear of West and Spacey with a four-under-par 68.
“This is only my second start this season, so I’m pretty stoked with the result,” said the 33-year-old owner of Just Alex Catering.
“I had a couple of three-putts on the front nine and I missed a great birdie chance at 14, so it could have been better, but it’s great to be in a strong position so early in the tournament.”
West overcame a bogey start with a birdie at six and the Glendower player notched further gains at 12, 13 and 18 to set the early clubhouse target. Spacey lost the advantage of a birdie at the third when he dropped the short fifth, but the Dainfern golfer joined West in front with a trio of birdies at seven, eight and nine.
The pair led the field for most of day until the chef whipped up some late afternoon excitement.
“I made a birdie start, but the nerves got the better of me and I dropped at the fourth,” he said. “I’ve been playing mainly social golf and I haven’t played Wingate in a while and the greens were very hard and fast and tricky. It took me a couple of holes just to settle and get into a rhythm.”
Van Heerden said he was rushing through the turn and I got too fancy with his approach at 10.
“I hit the tee shot left into the bush,” he said. “I wanted to leave the ball short of the green, but I went in too hard; holed a great putt for bogey, though.
“At the 12th, I had 130 metres in and the hole was downwind, so I hit a low wedge in and made the putt for birdie. I hit a huge drive down the 13th fairway and had 205 metres to the flag. I hit a low five-iron to eight feet and boxed the putt for eagle. That got the blood pumping again.”
The Wingate Park player left his birdie putt just short of the cup at 14 and had to rally to save par at 15, but he joined West and Spacey in the lead when he holed a birdie putt at 16.
“I actually hit that putt pretty hard, so it was a bit of a relief when it dropped,” he said. “I hit a bit of a wild drive at 18. I had 110 metres in and struck a sand-wedge perfectly. It landed two feet from the hole and I boxed the birdie putt for the lead.”
Van Heerden spent a season on the Sunshine Tour 10 years ago, but didn’t keep his card, so he launched his catering company.
“I gave Q-School another bash in 2009, but missed by one shot,” he said. “I had a few more tries, but I bombed out, so I focussed on building the business instead. But there is always that little voice that whispers ‘what if, so I’m going to give it one last stab this year, with my wife’s blessing. To take the lead in my second IGT Tour event is a great confidence builder and hopefully I can keep it going.”
Van Heerden will need his A-game to keep former IGT Tour winner West and Spacey at bay, while three-time Sunshine Tour winner Danie van Tonder lurks just three off the pace.
And don’t discount the local favourites. Wingate Park golf course superintendent Peter Cooper opened with a 74 and amateur Ruan Conradie – already a winner this season – carded a 75.