A STORY TO BEHOLD
One of South Africa’s brightest young players now knows he belongs. Michael Vlismas
Ryan van Velzen is busy writing his story. Some of it is on his right arm, in the tattoos he has. But this season, most of it has been written on the fairways of the Sunshine Tour as one of the rising stars of South African golf has come to the most powerful realisation of any professional athlete.
“I feel like I belong now,” says the 22-year-old Van Velzen.
Van Velzen had a very strong rookie season on the Sunshine Tour in 2022-23 where he won the Limpopo Championship among his nine top-15 finishes which also included third at the season-ending Tour Championship. He finished second behind Casey Jarvis in the battle for the Fortress Rookie of the Year title.
This has been an equally transformative season for the son of former touring professional Rob van Velzen. He started with a strong showing in Africa as he claimed a fifth-place finish at the FBC Zimbabwe Open which he followed up with third at the Zanaco Masters.
A team victory with good friend Luca Filippi at the Bain’s Whisky Ubunye Championship at Pretoria Country Club and another handful of top-15 finishes – including third at the South African PGA Championship – suggested Van Velzen was building towards a strong summer of Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour co-sanctioned tournaments.
A closer look at Van Velzen.
It’s just a feeling of belonging on this Tour now. It’s that feeling that I’m as good as the other players out here
“I played well all season on the Sunshine Tour and have been up there challenging at a few events. It’s just a feeling of belonging on this Tour now. It’s that feeling that I’m as good as the other players out here.”
That moment of truth came on the fairways of Blair Atholl Golf & Equestrian Estate in December as Van Velzen challenged for the Investec South African Open. He worked his way into the top five through 36 holes and then shared the lead with another former GolfRSA National Squad member Jayden Schaper going into the final round. Ultimately, Dean Burmester’s experience proved telling as Van Velzen finished an impressive second behind the multiple DP World Tour winner.
“I was nervous in that final round. Things only felt normal at about the 12th hole. I was a bit jittery. It was a kind of weird energy playing in the final group, but it was also very cool.
“Being able to compete there opened my eyes to realise I am at that level. I’d say it’s come a bit sooner than I expected. But I see all my friends out there in Europe doing well and competing, and that just gave me the confidence to know I can also do it, because we’ve played together and beaten each other.
“I’d also played practice rounds with some of the DP World Tour players, and it makes you realise a few things. When you’re younger you look at them and you think they’re machines, but then you realise they also mis-hit shots.
“I feel like there isn’t much difference technically between the professional golfer playing the Altron Big Easy Tour and the one playing on the DP World Tour. It’s those small margins that make the difference. It’s about making sure the mistakes are not that bad, and that your bad shot must still be pretty good.”
It’s those small margins that make the difference. It’s about making sure the mistakes are not that bad, and that your bad shot must still be pretty good
That self-realisation combined with a strong work ethic that resonates in the golf mantras he will often say in interviews – “Chasing too hard for birdies is how you make bogeys” – reveals a golfer who very much sticks to his processes and revels in that discipline.
Van Velzen’s story is only beginning, much like his tattoo collection.
“I just get random tattoos. This one, Semper Fidelis, means Always Faithful. Then I got this one last week. My caddie actually chose it because I was bored. I’ve also got one of a crown because Ryan means little king in Gaelic. And then I have a windmill because of my Dutch heritage,” he says pointing to each one.
Whether it’s ink on his arm or ink on his scorecard, Van Velzen’s story is shaping up to be an impressive one indeed.
TOP OF HIS CLASS
Best Sunshine Tour finishes for the 2023-24 season.
TYRONE WINFIELD/CARL FOURIE/SHAUN ROY/SUNSHINE TOUR