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Els and Randpark’s Rurik Raving about Wonderkid Wilco

by | Sep 30, 2019 | General, Randpark | 0 comments

St Andrews: Ernie Els couldn’t say enough about his 19-year-old compatriot Wilco Nienaber, who was in the same fourball as him, Randpark’s Rurik Gobel and tournament host Johann Rupert  in round three of the $5-million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship over the Old Course here this past Saturday, even though Nienaber missed the 54-hole cut by one.

“So many greats. Great kid, great swing, great hands, great demeanour, great attitude and, believe me, he’s got a great career ahead of him.

He hits it so far,” said Els of the rookie who turned professional just three months ago after winning 21 tournaments as an amateur, including the SA Amateur earlier this year, and rising to No 1 in the rankings. “That he just missed out today doesn’t matter.”

After making three cuts on the European Tour, Nienaber came into the Dunhill Links – with Rupert as his partner in the separate pro-am that runs alongside the main event – and shot a disappointing 75 on day one when his putter went cold. He then posted a brilliant seven-under-par 65 second round in foul weather at Kingsbarns, before signing for a 68 on the Old Course on day three. That put him on eight-under 208, just one stroke short of making the cut.

In spite of his disappointment at missing out, Nienaber was bogey-free for his last 37 holes – hugely impressive on these great links courses where so much can go wrong.

“Just a pity I left a few shots out there today,” said the big-hitting teenager from Bloemfontein Golf Club who at the Old Course’s 352m closing hole hit a mighty three-wood into the Valley of Sin just in front of the green. Wilco figured that if he’d taken driver he may well have run into the long grass behind the putting surface. That’s how far he hits the ball. But this was one occasion that he did leave a shot “out there” because, electing to putt, he left his first attempt well short of the cup which meant he ended up with a three-putt par that cost him a place in Sunday’s final round for the top 60 and ties among the professionals.

“Notwithstanding that three-putt, he’s an unbelievable talent and such a well-mannered kid,” said Rurik Gobel, Els’s amateur partner, who, besides Randpark, is also a member at Leopard Creek, and is a near-scratch golfer himself. “If he’s managed well, there’s no stopping him.” Els, who incidentally also missed the Dunhill Links 54-hole cut, turns 50 on October 17 and will campaign on the PGA Tour Champions next year.

By Grant Winter who covered last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

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