WHEN Wilco Nienaber hits a golf ball, it stays hit. So, if you don’t follow professional golf too closely, who is Wilco Nienaber anyway?
Well, he’s a tall, wiry 20-year-old South African from Bloemfontein who turned professional last year after winning the SA Amateur. In fact he won no less than 21 titles as an amateur. And now he’s beginning to make his presence felt in the pro ranks – not only for his par-busting antics, but because he hits the ball further, considerably further, than pretty much anyone else on the major world tours.
Now let’s take a quick survey. Wilco’s swing speed – when he goes for one of his monster drives – is 135 mph, which translates into a mind-blowing 216 km/h. And that’s even faster than really big hitters like Brooks Koekpa, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson who all hover around the 200 km/h mark. Wilco, in fact, is right up there with that long-hitting American freak that is Bryson DeChambeau.
Wilco doesn’t have his European Tour card but last week he received a last minute entry into that tour’s English Championship when American John Catlin’s name was scratched from the line-up because he broke the tour’s coronavirus bio-bubble rules by going to a restaurant with his caddie. Wilco grabbed the opportunity with both hands, using his power game to shoot rounds of 68, 65, 67 and 66 for 18-under-par 266 and finish fourth behind runaway winner Andy Sullivan from England, a former SA Open champion. Wilco picked up a cheque for 46,125 euros for his efforts which equates to over R900,000. And that’s pretty handy money for a young man just starting out in the paid ranks with a bazooka driver in his golf bag.
Because he finished in the top 10 in the English Championship, Wilco has earned himself a spot in this week’s Celtic Classic in Wales and is playing the first two rounds alongside fellow South African Zander Lombard and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts – another strong, big hitter but no, he’s not in Nienaber’s league.
So it’ll be interesting to see how Wilco fares this week. The ability to hit a golf ball a long way is no guarantee of success, but he’s a young professional with what seems a very sensible head on his shoulders. And prior to the English Championship, he kept himself occupied with some eye-catching performances on Northern England’s mini golf tours and in four straight 18-hole events sizzled in relation to par by finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 1st with rounds of 64, 65, 67 and 65. So he’s clearly not just a big-hitter. He’s got touch and feel and, hopefully, BMT too. This was evident on last summer’s Sunshine Tour when as a rookie he finished a very respectable 19th in the Order of Merit. On the corona-disrupted 2020 European Challenge Tour he was, leading up to the English Championship, currently in seventh place.
Nienaber has taken up residence in England with his manager Mark Bell and this has given him a solid home base as he waits for any more last-minute calls to tee it up and smash it on the UK Swing of the European Tour.
Watch this space and, if Wilco does well this week and gets some TV coverage, watch with amazement those bullett drives which often aren’t too far off the 400-yard mark.
Written by Randpark member Grant Winter
Image Credit : Ernest Blignault