It’s been a year to remember for South Africa’s top amateur male golfer, and he isn’t done yet. Gary Lemke
GOLFRSA SQUAD WATCH
When Altin van der Merwe is asked to rate his year on a scale of 1-10, he doesn’t hesitate. “A 10,” he says. “It’s been the perfect year, I couldn’t have asked for it to have been any better. I had set my target as being in the top-five rankings by the end of 2023. This has exceeded my expectations.”
Van der Merwe has risen to No 1 on the GolfRSA Open Amateur rankings and it could be argued that he’s something of a late developer, being aged 27, in a world where the top amateurs seem to be getting younger and younger. Not that the product of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation is fazed by those kinds of numbers. The ones that count are those he writes down on the scorecard. And those scores have certainly helped open doors in 2023.
“I have to give this year a 10 out of 10, simply because of what my aspirations were. I was never this good. I was good in Matric, and I could play in the lower leagues, but now I’ve played internationally, thanks to being selected for the GolfRSA National Squad, and I’ve got options. GolfRSA took me into the squad this year and I went on tour to the UK. I’m working with two really good coaches. The physical coach, Gavin Groves, has given me a programme and there’s also a mental coach.”
The No 1’s playlist
Hannes told me that if I wanted to have any sort of successful golf career I would have to change my behaviour. Which I have done, and I am a better golfer for it
Speaking of the mental aspect, Van der Merwe freely admits to being something of a “hothead” when he was a bit younger, but regards it as all part of life’s learning curve.
“I’m not going to shy away from that aspect of my life. But it came in the process of maturing, a three- or four-year period from about 17 to 21. I did a bit of club throwing, tossing my glove, but it wasn’t anger aimed at anyone. I suppose you could call it self-frustration.
“I struggled to calm myself down in tense situations, but that’s all a thing of the past. I am mates with Kyle de Beer [former SA Amateur champion who has turned pro] and he was similar to me. But, I have Hannes van Niekerk at the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation to thank for getting me right. He told me that if I wanted to have any sort of successful golf career I would have to change my behaviour. Which I have done, and I am a better golfer for it. I’m also back at Bellville, which has more of an Afrikaans environment and I feel comfortable in what I’m doing.”
Altin van der Merwe’s best finishes in 2023
I expect a lot of myself, so the first thing was to make the cut, and I was relieved to do so... There definitely was different pressure but I think I held things together quite well
In October Van der Merwe got a taste of what it is like to compete among the Sunshine Tour professionals when he teed up at the Fortress Invitational at Glendower. He made the cut, fighting back from an opening round of 75 to shoot 69, before weekend rounds of 74 and 69 saw him in a tie for 30th.
“It was a huge eye-opener,” says the Bellville Golf Club member, who spent a lot of time before that playing out of Humewood in Gqeberha. “There were two rounds where I didn’t play like I should, but I got to see how different things are with the professionals.
“The course is set up a lot tougher than for us amateurs. The fairways are firmer and the greens are quicker. You have to be a lot more precise with your game. The entire course is manicured so much better. When we play, they cut the course once and we play it as it is. The holes are damaged on the greens and it becomes easier to roll in the putts. In the pro set-up, if you don’t hit it in the middle of the hole it’s going to slide past.
“I expect a lot of myself, so the first thing was to make the cut, and I was relieved to do so after a shaky first round. There definitely was different pressure but I think I held things together quite well, overall.”
It has also given Van der Merwe an idea of what to expect in the future. “I’m turning pro next year,” he says. “It might have to be through Q-School, but I’m hoping to get my card by earning more points on the Sunshine Tour. They hand out invitations to amateurs based on the national rankings, so being No 1 I am hoping to get a couple more invites and then do well. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll try to earn my card at Q-School.”
Whatever the case, Van der Merwe is going to stay grounded. “I drive an Opel Corsa hatchback, which I bought second hand while I was still studying in Gqeberha. I saved for around four years to buy it and got the money from my job as a waiter. No one can say it was handed to me, but I’m not one of those people who goes for the fancy things in life.”
Except, perhaps, that he’s going to become more of a household name in the sport and another high-quality product off the GolfRSA conveyor belt.
TYRONE WINFIELD/CARL FOURIE/SUNSHINE TOUR/ERNEST BLIGNAULT/GOLFRSA