3rd June 2016 | Big Easy IGT Golf

Naicker nails Zwartkop Match Play title

ZwartkopFinalDay (105)TSHWANE, 2 June 2016 – NJ Arnoldi tried to repeat his quarter- and semi-final heroics, but he just couldn’t foil a determined Damian Naicker, who claimed his first IGT Tour title with a 1-up victory in the Zwartkop Match Play Championship final on Thursday.

Naicker was delighted with the victory and the 27-year-old Modderfontein golfer hopes to see the championship become an annual attraction on the IGT Tour schedule.

“I have to congratulate Cois and Lokkie du Plooy from the IGT Tour for collaborating with Dale Hayes on this event,” Naicker said.

“It’s been a fun week, but also mentally very challenging. Match play brings something very different to the table, because you have to perform under the gun. You have to know when to attack, when to concede and when to release your killer. I think these are the qualities all great golfers have and the young amateurs and rookies can learn a lot from this format.

“On a personal level I also learned something important this week. In regular stroke play, a triple bogey can cost you a cut or a bigger cheque. In match play, you only lose one hole, so your focus immediately shifts to the next hole so you can fight your way back. That’s how you should play all the time. I did this so well this week and that’s what I hope to take into the tournament coming up.”

Naicker had a strong match play record as an amateur, but his last big match play championship was the 2011 Premier SA Inter-Provincial in Bloemfontein.

“I remember we were six rookies on the team and no-one gave us a chance, but we played out of our socks and ended a five-year winning drought for Central Gauteng,” Naicker said.

While IGT Tour winners Haydn Porteous and Callum Mowat did another tour of duty for Central Gauteng in 2012, Naicker joined the pro circuit.

“Apart from a handful of match play events during my three-year stint in the United Kingdom, I haven’t played much of this format and I had low expectations coming to Zwartkop Country Club,” he said.

“I had to draw on every bit of past experience to make though the first round. I was under the gun against Coert (Groenewald), but I made a crazy up-and-down out of the hazard to save par at 16 and keep the match alive. I beat Coert at the 19th hole and just kept going.”

Naicker defeated Simon Kruger 2 & 1 in the second two and downed amateur Christopher van der Merwe 3 & 2 to reach the quarter-final, where he met three-time IGT Tour winner Estiaan Conradie, who had beaten IGT Tour Money List leader Anton Haig.

Naicker knew it would take a huge effort to dispatch the 18-year-old Wingate junior.

“I’ve played a few rounds against Estiaan and he is a brilliant little golfer, but I had the experience,” said Naicker after romping to a 6 & 5 victory. “I won the first two holes to pile on pressure and made all the putts that counted to keep the pressure up. After I won six, seven and eight, I knew I just had to hang in there and keep with him to win the match.”

Next Naicker birdied the par five 16th to seal a 3 & 2 win over CJ Levey in the semi-final, setting up a mouth-watering final with Arnoldi, who had been equally impressive in his last two rounds.

The Silver Lakes golfer downed Hilton Hughes at the 21st hole in the quarter-final and eliminated Duane Kean at the 21st hole to reach the final.

“I knew I would have a fight on my hands when NJ and I halved the first hole in eagles,” Naicker said.

“I birdied four to win the hole and won the seventh with a birdie, but NJ came back with a birdie at eight. A birdied at nine gave me a 2-up lead at the turn and I led 3-up after winning 11, but then he won three of the next four holes to take us back to all square.

“With two par fives coming up, I was pretty relaxed because I knew I could birdie those to stay alive and extend the match if I had to.”

But Naicker took the lead with a birdie at the par five 16, kept in front when the pair halved 17 and bagged the title when he matched Arnoldi’s birdie at par five 18th.

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