16th January 2017 | IGT Challenge Tour

Bujela blasts into Race to Q-School mix

RandparkDay1 (60)(PHOTO – Sipho Bujela; credit CJ du Plooy)

Lali Stander

JOHANNESBURG, 16 January 2017 – Soweto golfer Sipho Bujela tore around the Bushwillow course at Randpark Golf Club in break-neck speed to join Sunshine Tour campaigner Jaco Prinsloo at the top of the first round leaderboard in the IGT Challenge Tour’s Race to Q-School #12.

Both players boasted an eagle, five birdies and a pair of bogeys en route to setting the target at five-under-par 67.

Wingate Park’s Ruan Conradie celebrated his pro debut with a 68 to finish in third, one stroke clear of Quintin Crause, Altaaf Bux, Coert Groenewald, and amateurs Philip Geerts and Hayden Griffiths.

An eagle start set the 26-year-old Bujela on a fiery course and he quickly recovered from a bogey at the second with a birdie at the third and kept a clean card up until the final hole.

“I actually hit my tee shot right and finished under the trees, but I had a good swing,” Bujela stated. “I had 198 metres to the pin, but I had blind shot to the green, so I aimed over the rocks and flew a five-iron in. The ball landed stone dead next to the pin and I just had to tap-in for the eagle.

“Unfortunately I hit the bunker at the second and couldn’t up-and-down, but I recovered quickly with a birdie at the par-five third and picked up two more at five and seven. I played really solidly for the rest of the day and more birdie putts dropped at 14 and 17.

“The 18th sets up nicely for a fade, but I still don’t know how the tee shot went left. I had a good lie and I punched out onto the green. I had a long first putt, about 30 feet, and lagged it to five feet, but I missed the par-putt and three-putted for a bogey to close.

“Jaco set the target earlier at five under, so I was very pleased to see that I joined him in the lead. It’s the kind of start I was hoping for, and it’s great to build on from here.”

Bujela is one of 30 players from the Gary Player Class of 2017 – a development initiative announced by the Sunshine Tour in November last year – who will be competing on the country’s premier golf development circuit this season.

“The Sunshine Tour tossed me a lifeline with free entry into the IGT Challenge Tour events and I want to make the most of this chance,” said Bujela, who joined the pro ranks in 2013 on the back of an outstanding amateur career.

Bujela and good friend Musi Nethunzwi were the black amateurs to be selected on merit to represent South Africa in the Zone VI Championship and Bujela also qualified for the 2012 South African Open on the strength of his South African Golf Association ranking.

Adjusting to the pro ranks was tough, but Bujela earned close to R40,000 in his rookie season with a season-best tie for 21st in the Zambia Sugar Open.
“A back injury early in 2014 wrecked my start in the pro ranks,” he said. “I was out of the game for seven months and when I returned, I had to start from scratch. It felt like I had never swung a club before and the frustration was overwhelming.

“I really battled over the last two seasons and when I was selected to join the Gary Player Class of 2017, it was like a mountain fell off my back. It’s so incredibly expensive to play the circuit when you are not earning a cheque and you miss out at the qualifying rounds.

“To be able to play competitively all-year round on the IGT Challenge Tour and the Big Easy Tour without the financial headache is my chance to get myself back on the Sunshine Tour and I want to make the most of this opportunity.”

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