17th February 2016 | IGT Challenge Tour
Van Tonder makes music at ERMP Challenge
BOKSBURG, 17 February 2016 – Alberton pro Shaun van Tonder used to get the members of his church on their feet with the magic he produced on a guitar and he used that same talent to excite the fans around the 18th green at ERMP Golf Club when he rocked home a 20-footer for birdie to win the ERPM Challenge on Wednesday.
The hallelujah putt saw the 27-year-old close with an even-par 72 for a maiden pro win on nine-under-par 207 over IGT Tour winner Coert Groenewald.
The victory also marked a first ever podium finish for the former South African Music Institute student since he swapped his guitars for golf clubs six years ago.
“I never, ever won a trophy, not even when I won the hurdles at primary school, so this is an incredibly special moment for me,” said the delighted champion.
“God gave me two talents and I’m really thankful that He helped me to take this talent to the winner’s circle. My folks gave me their blessing when switched careers and they have been my biggest fans.
“My girlfriend Kirsten has been an absolute rock, so this is you guys and for all my family and friends who support me, even those who thought I was nuts to pursue a golf careerf.”
Van Tonder said that the birdie chance at 18 was down to his fellow GFG Academy stable-mate and good friend Cameron Gunning and he couldn’t, in good faith, take all the credit for his win.
“I told Cameron that I needed him on the bag if I got into contention,” Van Tonder said.
“My tee shot at 18 veered a bit left. The ball ran through the fairway and ended behind a tree. I had a one shot lead, but when Coert’s approach landed five feet from the hole, I was under pressure.
“He had a very makeable birdie putt and that’s when Cameron said: ‘Don’t walk off the course today wondering what could have been. Take the shot and commit to it. So I hooked a low nine-iron around the tree and the ball finished 20 feet from the flag.
“I never looked at the leaderboard, but I knew that I needed that putt to avoid a play-off. At first I thought it was a straight putt, but I had another look and then Cameron confirmed it was slightly left. I knew the putt would drop the moment I struck the ball.”
Van Tonder started the final round a shot behind Pieter Moolman, but he dropped shots at one and four, while Moolman offset a bogey at one with birdies at two, four and nine to pull four strokes clear at the turn.
“I made a good birdie at 10, but Pieter hit his tee shot out of bounds and that three shot swing gave me a lot of confidence down the back nine,” Van Tonder said.
“I hit a gap-wedge to four feet at 13 and made the birdie putt. Pieter saved par when he putted from off the green with a three-wood after flying the green with his second. It was still tight until 18.”
Moolman’s first tee shot hit a tree and he was forced to reload after declaring a lost ball. His second drive hit another tree further down the fairway, but this time the ball was found in the out of bounds area.
Moolman made eight for a 77 that left him in a tie for fifth on five under with Burger Heckroodt.
Groenewald edged within a shot of Van Tonder with a birdie at 17, but failed to convert for birdie at 18. He signed for 73 and share of second with Juan Langeveld, who fired a low round 66.
“It was great to get this first win, but it was tough to watch Pieter at the last hole,” said Van Tonder.
“My coach Graeme Francis has given me a lot to improve my game, but the biggest gift has been to keep a positive mind-set, even when the going gets rough. I know Pieter is struggling to re-build his swing, so I just want to tell him to keep grinding because the pay-off will come.”