In a masterclass by a man who appears to be in the form of his life, Thriston Lawrence equalled the course record at Blair Atholl Golf & Equestrian Estate on Thursday with an eight-under-par 64 to take the first-round lead of the Investec South African Open Championship.
There barely appeared to be a tee-shot where the two-time DP World Tour winner didn’t bend down to pick up his tee after splitting yet another fairway; he didn’t appear to be anywhere but in the proximity of the pin with an approach shot all day; and there wasn’t a putt that didn’t seem to have a chance.
He ended up taking a one-stroke lead over Ross Fisher of England and Germany’s Jens Fahrbring, with Scott Jamieson of Scotland and another German, Matti Schmid, in a share of fourth on six-under-par.
“The key was just doing what I’m doing,” said Lawrence. “That’s hitting good drives, and my approach shots were really great. I made a few putts that I didn’t do last week. So it’s just sticking to my gameplan, being aggressive off the tee and with my approach shots.”
That aggression off the tee paid off in spades on a course that brags about how long it is. “It’s stupid long – well, maybe not stupid, but it’s really long,” laughed Lawrence. “But I like it. I like to play full shots into the greens. I think the mid- to high-irons are the key to my game. I think it suits me. It’s quite good for getting off the tee, but you still have to be in play to give yourself a shot to play under par.
“I’m quite familiar with the course. I played a Sunshine Tour event here last year and managed to shoot 64 in my last round in that tournament to set the course record. I tied that today. It was great fun.”
He’s always been a good putter, but that has been a part of his game that was bothering him a little recently. “My father gave me a nice tip after the Joburg Open last week, and that helped,” he said. “The tip was to just stand a bit further away from the ball. He’s been my coach for a long time. He saw something and told me. I didn’t practice it on Monday or Tuesday, and he said I should just trust him, and I did. I didn’t make a whole lot, but I made a few and I’m very happy with that.”
Also on six-under was JJ Senekal, who birdied the last to move into a share of fourth. He made seven birdies and a bogey in a great start for someone who, a week earlier, had to qualify to play in the Joburg Open.
Next best of the South Africans was the unsung Luke Brown. Who didn’t drop a shot on his way to a five-under-par 67 and a share of sixth. It was a score and a position he shared with Wilco Nienaber, who started putting together his very tidy short game to go with his length off the tee. Also there was Anthony Michael, who won his first Sunshine Tour title a few months ago, and often seems to save something good for a big occasion.
After such a good start, all eyes will be on Lawrence as he seeks to cement the promise he showed when he won the South African Amateur Championship two years in a row in 2013 and 2014 with his national open title. “It means everything,” he said of the thought of getting his name on the revered old trophy. “Every South African wants to get their hands on that trophy, so that’s a good start for me. There’s still three days left, and I’ve just got to pray and hope!”