While the eventual winner of the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit is not in doubt, a victory this week for sixth-placed JC Ritchie in the Tour Championship at Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate would be the crowning achievement for what has been an incredible season for him.
Shaun Norris can’t be caught at the summit of the Order of Merit, and his four nearest challengers – Dean Burmester, Thriston Lawrence, Oliver Bekker and Hennie du Plessis – won’t be teeing it up in South Africa this week. Neither will defending champion Garrick Higgo, so Ritchie is the highest-ranked player starting.
He got there with three victories and three other top-10 performances in his 15 starts during the 2021-22 season. That two of his wins came in tournaments co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour is all the more impressive, given that it vindicates the Sunshine Tour’s decision to broaden the opportunities available to its members and opens a path for Ritchie to the DP World Tour at the end of the year.
While Ritchie won’t get into the rich Nedbank Golf Challenge in November as leader of the Order of Merit, a strong finish to the long season will give him confidence as he continues his Challenge Tour campaign after this week’s tournament. One more win for him on that circuit, and he will be automatically and immediately promoted to the DP World Tour.
Of course, with 37 of the Sunshine Tour’s top 50 players making up the field, it will be no cakewalk for Ritchie.
He will have to overcome the players who have better recent form than he does. They include the likes of Tristen Strydom, who has spent the season knocking on the door of a maiden Sunshine Tour victory. He has no fewer than 12 top-10s in his 29 starts, and that includes four runner-up finishes. He is surely destined to win soon.
There is also the small matter of the prodigious talent of the likes of Jayden Schaper and Wilco Nienaber, which will certainly manifest at some time in the near future – and there is no reason that it couldn’t happen at Serengeti this week.
Regular campaigners from the DP World Tour Justin Harding, Louis de Jager and George Coetzee are also in town too, and their class and experience could all be telling as the tournament progresses.
In truth, any one of the 37 players is capable of pulling off the win, and they all have compelling credentials for making a claim to be the favourite when the tournament tees off on Thursday.
But, for Ritchie, a win would be an exclamation point on a remarkable season.