Two of South Africa's top amateur talents, Kyle McClatchie and Garrick Higgo, laid down an early marker in the opening round of the BWM SA Open, proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni at Glendower Golf Club.
The duo returned a pair of four-under-par 68s on Thursday to finish just three shots behind joint first round leaders Branden Grace and American Chase Koepka.
World No129, McClatchie turned one under, but he fired up the home crowd when he racked up five birdies in the first six holes of his homeward loop. The reigning English Mens Stroke Play champion was upbeat after a solid start in the national championship despite errant tee shots on 16 and 18 that resulted in bogeys.
'To be just three shots off the pace is the icing on the cake,' said the 20-year-old Serengeti golfer. 'It was a much better effort than last year. I bagged important birdies at 15 and 16 after a soft bogey at the second and I made a great up-and-down from the bunker at 17 that kept the round going.
'I holed a 10-footer for birdie at the first and tapped in for birdie at second to keep the momentum going and made three in a row at four, five and six. The fourth and fifth holes are two of the toughest scoring holes on this course, so I was really glad to come through those with a pair of birdies.
'I drove it straight into the trees left at seven. All I could do was punch out. I hit a wedge to 10 feet, but I missed the par putt. I hit a poor drive at eight and short-sided myself with the second, but made a great up-and-down to save par.'
McClatchie has always battled at the par-four ninth and today was no different.
'I hit my tee shot left in the trees, got it into the fairway with a sideways chip and hit a good wedge to 12 foot, but missed the putt,' he said. 'But I wasn't disheartened. I had a solid round and a bit of good luck cancelled the odd bad lie or poor tee shot. The international experience I gained over the last year in Europe and the United States really helped me to settle on this stage and helped me to take a good attitude out there.'
Fellow GolfRSA National Squad player Higgo also benefited from exposure at the highest level.
The Stellenbosch golfer - who leads the South African Golf Association's Open Amateur rankings - campaigned in the United States for four months, where he reached the semi-final of the U.S. Junior Amateur and represented the International Team in the inaugural Junior Presidents Cup.
'It's a pity that I pulled the 10-footer for birdie at the last hole, because it was a dream start,' said the 17-year-old (pictured below). 'It felt great to walk off a tough course with a bogey-free card.
'I struck the ball well and putted well. I boxed a 10-footer at the fourth and tapped in for birdie at the other three holes.
'Unfortunately I got a little unlucky with my second shot at 15. I knew I hit it close to the green. I just missed the bunker, but I had to stand in the bunker. It was a very awkward stance and a tough chip to execute and I ended up missing the birdie chance.
'I have to thank Brandon Stone and Thomas Aiken for playing with me in the practice round and giving me some insight into the course. Hopefully I can keep it going on Friday.'
South Africa's fourth ranked Matt Saulez was equally impressive with a three-under-par 69; this just a day after the KwaZulu-Natal amateur claimed the third and final qualifying spot available at Irene Country Club at the third hole of a four-way play-off.
Christo Lamprecht, the youngest player in the field at 16 years and 11 months, launched his campaign with a one-over 73. The reigning Sanlam SA Amateur champion was level through 17 holes, but his par-putt at 18 just slipped past the hole.
He finished alongside fellow Southern Cape amateur Jovan Rebula, who is on a break from Auburn University.
Louis Albertse from Rustenburg, who claimed the final spot in the Modderfontein qualifier, opened with a three-over 75 and South Africa's number two ranked Malcolm Mitchell returned a five over 77.
First round scores
65 - Chase Koepka, Branden Grace
66 - Chris Paisley
67 - Bradley Neil, Erik van Rooyen, Richard Sterne, Nacho Elvira
68 - Garrick Higgo, Jacques Blaauw, Kyle McClatchie, Matt Wallace, Adrien Saddier, Ulrich van den Berg, Jeff Winther, Jacques Kruyswijk, Tyrone Ferreira
69 - Richard Bland, Rourke van der Spuy, Haydn Porteous, Retief Goosen, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Adilson Da Silva, Jake Roos, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Matt Saulez, Justin Walters, Vaughn Groenewald, Charl Schwartzel, Oliver Fisher, Zack Byrd
70 - Andy Sullivan, Dylan Frittelli, Austin Connelly, Breyten Meyer, Jorge Campillo, Scott Vincent, Zander Lombard, Darren Fichardt, Neil Schietekat, Daniel van Tonder, Jamie Donaldson, MJ Viljoen, Soomin Lee, Marcus Kinhult, Titch Moore, Daniel Greene
71 - Charlie Ford, Hennie Otto, Tyrone Ryan, Ernie Els, Hennie du Plessis, Pep Angles, Shaun Norris, Brett Rumford, Anthony Michael, Colin Nel, Pedro Oriol, Renato Paratore, Lasse Jensen
72 - JC Ritchie, David Drysdale, George Coetzee, Ashley Chesters, Mark Williams, Matthieu Pavon, Jens Dantorp, Jared Harvey, Morten Orum Madsen, Ruan de Smidt, Tapio Pulkkanen, Oliver Bekker, Garth Mulroy, Christofer Blomstrand, Marcus Armitage, Merrick Bremner, Josh Geary, Rhys West, Pontus Widegren, Musiwalo Nethunzwi
73 - Makhetha Mazibuko, Mike Weir, Jordan Smith, Marc Warren, James Kingston, Jaco Ahlers, Sam Horsfield, Jovan Rebula, Raphael Jacquelin, Christo Lamprecht, Chris Swanepoel, Riekus Nortje, Oliver Farr, Jean Hugo, Clement Sordet, Toto Thimba, Heinrich Bruiners
74 - Scott Fernandez, James Morrison, Jinho Choi, Jason Scrivener, Christiaan Basson, Daniel Brooks, Alex Haindl, Jonathan Agren, Lucas Bjerregaard, Jbe' Kruger, Julien Guerrier, Trevor Dodds, Mikko Korhonen, Aaron Rai, Louis de Jager, Ryan Evans
75 - Marthin Scheepers, Ross McGowan, Tjaart van der Walt, Justin Harding, Brandon Stone, Mathias Gronberg, Rak hyun Cho, Ricardo Gouveia, Gregory Bourdy, Ockie Strydom, Ryan Tipping, Keith Horne, Roberto Lupini, Toby Tree, Thomas Detry, Louis Albertse, Lee Slattery, Graeme Storm, Chris Wood, Andrew Curlewis, JJ Senekal
76 - Keenan Davidse, Matthew Southgate, Edoardo Molinari
77 - Jacquin Hess, Andre Nel, Jaco Prinsloo, Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester, Jason Diab, Malcolm Mitchell, Andrea Pavan
78 - Michiel Bothma, Peter Karmis, Madalitso Muthiya
79 - Trevor Immelman, Soren Kjeldsen, Doug McGuigan, James Kamte
80 - Jean-Paul Strydom, Gregory Havret
81 - Wallie Coetsee, Marc Cayeux
RTD - David Howell