11th May 2016 | Sunshine Ladies Tour
Happy days at Houghton
Resurgent Anton Haig kept his comeback campaign on track with back-to-back victories on the IGT Tour, while Benoniâ€™s Lejan Lewthwaite from Benoni and Carrie Park from South Korea upstaged a clutch of Sunshine Tour pros to complete the top three in the Houghton Challenge on Wednesday.
Haig took control at Houghton Golf Club with a bogey-free nine-under-par 63 in round two and shot 69 in the final round to close out his second victory on 10 under 206. Lewthwaite returned a 70 to finish three shots back and Park signed for an even-par 72 to take third on six under.
Lewthwaite was positively beaming after her first top five finish.
â€œOh man, it feels great to earn a cheque,â€ she said. â€œIt wasnâ€™t pretty. I bogeyed 11 and 18 and I had a three-putt double bogey at 12, but I made six birdies to hang in there.â€
The 24-year-old Wanna Be A Champion player graduated Texas State University last year and completed an internship. She returned to South Africa just in time to claim a runner-up finish in the SA Womenâ€™s Open.
â€œOnce the Sunshine Ladies Tour started in January, I was out of my depth, thoughâ€ said Lewthwaite.
â€œThe pace was insane and I wasnâ€™t prepared for it. You barely had time to work on your game before the next event teed off. It just felt as if I never got going. I started poorly on the IGT Tour, too, but competing regularly has given me time to adjust. Iâ€™ve got a nice rhythm going between events and coaching and training and I am getting my confidence back.â€
Lewthwaite and Park both hope to raise sponsorship to compete in the First Stage of the LPGA Qualifying School. In the meantime, they just want keep on improving.
â€œI was really happy to get another top three finish so soon after the ERPM Challenge,â€ said GFG Academyâ€™s Park. â€œIt shows me that Iâ€™m on the right track with the work Iâ€™m doing on my swing and putting. Iâ€™m getting positive results and Iâ€™m learning how keep a cool head under pressure even when I have need to scramble. If I look at my results a year ago, I can really see the improvement and that just makes me hungry to push the boat out some more.â€
Four-time international champion Haig last visited the winnerâ€™s circle at the Johnnie Walker Classic in 2007.
Since he started his comeback on the IGT Tour in February, he has collected two titles, two runner-up finishes and two third places, a tie for sixth and a joint eighth finish in eight starts. He knows he has to make up for lost time, but at 29, rushing at a snailâ€™s pace is a better fit for Haig right now.
â€œBack then I was too young and I chased a lot of empty dreams,â€ Haig said. â€œThis time I want to get it right. Another win is a great result, but it doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™m ready for the big league just yet. I take a lot of positives out of this one, though. I didnâ€™t play as well this week as I did at ERPM. I hit the ball great and the putter was good, but not as good. This one was tougher to win and it was never in the bag until the last couple of holes.
â€œItâ€™s good to know that even if you donâ€™t have your A-game, you still have the depth of character and the resolve to grind out a victory. Investec, Dimension Data and TaylorMade put their faith in me and every week that I get a little closer towards competing on the Sunshine Tour, I get a little more excited for them and for me.â€
Seeing Lewthwaite and Park shine also excites Haig.
â€œI think Carrie and Lejan are going to inspire a lot of young girls and thatâ€™s what we need for the womenâ€™s game in South Africa,â€ he said.
â€œIâ€™m really grateful to have the IGT Tour help me ease my way back into competitive golf, but letâ€™s not forget that it is first and foremost a development Tour. This is where these young girls and guys come to learn to compete and prepare for the next stage. These two ladies are incredibly talented and I have to commend coaches like Graeme Francis and Dougie Wood who see the value of the IGT Tour and encourage their players to play here before they take the leap to the pro circuit.
â€œLook at Carrie; she got the best preparation possible for the Sunshine Ladies Tour here and it showed in her results. And the IGT Tour will do the same for Lejan.â€
Photo – Lejan Lewthwaite; credit CJ du Plooy