29th May 2017 | Big Easy IGT Golf

Nel nudges clear in Waterkloof Challenge

(PHOTO – Eric Nel; credit CJ du Plooy)

TSHWANE, 29 May 2017 – Centurion amateur Eric Nel exploited a light breeze and a hot putter at Waterkloof Golf Club to fire a seven-under-par 65 in the first round of the Waterkloof Challenge on Monday.

The 19-year-old leads 18 players who broke par on the first day of the IGT Challenge Tour event and he will start the second round one shot clear of Wingate Park’s Ruan Conradie and Allister de Kock from the Gary Player Class of 2017.

Nel got his campaign underway with a textbook par at the first, but he was three under by the time he reached the fourth hole.

“I split the fairway at the par five and hit a four-iron from 225 metres to two feet and made the eagle putt,” said Nel. “I also hit my approach at the third to two feet and nailed the putt for birdie and more solid irons into six and seven set up two more birdie putts inside six feet.”

Nel missed the green at nine about 20 metres left and couldn’t up-and-down to save par, but he rallied with a brace of birdies at 10 and 11 and dipped to seven under with another gain from inside six feet at 13.

“I leaked my tee shot right at 14, laid up but struck my approach a tad too hard and the ball flew the green,” Nel said. “I hit a good chip and the par putt peep into the hole, but kept going. But I was able to cancel the bogey straightaway when I drained a 40-footer for birdie at the par-three (15th). And I closed with three straight pars for my 65.

“It feels great to be leading with some confidence, because even when I won the CMR Challenge last May, I wasn’t putting well at all. I am very pleased that I countered the bogey at nine with back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11 and that I was able to hole that monster putt at 15 to cancel the second drop.

“Six weeks ago it would have been a different story, but I realised I was nowhere near ready for the pro circuit after I bombed out at the First Stage of the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School in March and I made some changes that have paid off for me.”

Since joining Kyle Phelan from HPC Golf Academies at Centurion in mid-April, Nel banked his first cheques this season after a tie for fifth at the Killarney Challenge and a top 10 finish at the State Mines Challenge in May.

Nel believes the progress is down to a positive mental approach and success with the short stick.

“I hit 13 drivers today and only one was a bad tee shot and I only had one long putt outside six feet, but the difference was that I converted seven of those putts.

“That definitely wasn’t the case for the better part of last season and the start of this year. Kyle and I made subtle changes to all areas of my game, but changing my stance has produced some great results with the putter. I am standing more upright over the ball and I’m also standing a little further away. For the first time in many, many months I am stroking with a lot more freedom and confidence.

“Having that kind of confidence with the short stick feeds the rest of my game and impacts on my course management. It’s exciting to see improvement and to know that the hard graft is worth it, especially when I didn’t quite understand the reasoning at first.

“I’m definitely playing with more confidence right now and that empowers me to make better decisions on the golf course. I shot two sub-par rounds at Killarney and State Mines, so the goal now is to shoot under par all three rounds. If it comes with a second IGT Challenge Trophy, great; if it doesn’t, that’s fine too. As long as I am lowering my stroke average, winning is just a bonus.”

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