Advice from a stranger on the driving range led to immediate rewards for Vernon Koekemoer of Swartklip Golf Club as he went out and played top-class golf on the front nine at Gary Player Country Club to all but settle the contest for the Men’s C Division of the Sanlam Cancer Challenge.
Koekemoer, playing off a 28 handicap, earned a staggering 29 points on the front nine courtesy of five pars, three of them in succession as he approached the turn. That gave him a 14-point lead halfway through the final round and he could afford a hat-trick of double-bogeys midway through the back nine and still collect a 12-point win over Dean Ramey of Killarney Country Club.
A haul of 89 points also unsurprisingly gave Koekemoer a win in the overall standings, seven points clear of Men’s B Division champion Alan Louw of Irene Country Club.
“My first nine in the first round was very good, but my second nine was a bit off, I just wasn’t hitting the ball like I want to, so in the morning before the final round I went to the driving range and there was a young guy standing behind me waiting to hit. He said to me, ‘You know what your problem is? You’re not swinging through the ball’.
“I was hitting everything with a fade, so I tried to focus on completing my follow-through and it made a big difference. I thought, ‘This works for me’. I still thought it was brilliant to get 29 points on the first nine, but I didn’t try and attack the greens in two, I was happy to play short and then putt, even from 10 metres away,” Koekemoer, representing Swartklip Golf Club in Limpopo, said after his triumph.
Koekemoer has had a taxing time in recent years. Five years ago he was playing regularly and was off a handicap of 15 or 16, but then he developed a problem with his ankles, which were no longer able to bend, causing problems with his swing.
“It was definitely one of my best rounds for 10 years today, even though two years ago I finished third in the Sanlam Cancer Challenge. But now my mom-in-law has cancer and I promised my wife and myself that I would also play in the finals this year and also donate money to Cansa [the Cancer Association of South Africa].
“There are not a lot of players in our club, but they are all very keen on the Sanlam Cancer Challenge, and then the regional finals were fortunately in nearby Thabazimbi. Then today it was great to share my win with my whole family afterwards,” Koekemoer said.
Swartklip Golf Club is actually on the border with North-West and, being just 45 kilometres away from Sun City, Koekemoer said he plays the Lost City course often but finds Gary Player Country Club “a bit tough”.
But Koekemoer may just pay a few more visits to the famed layout now that he has conquered his fears with a brilliant display of golf.