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Golf | SA

Mark back where it all began



It’s not always easy to know when to quit. The proverbial words “never give up” are not good advice for everyone, and in golf this is true in so many cases. The world of professional golf is one of the most competitive, unforgiving industries in the world, and perseverance doesn’t always pay off. Sometimes cutting your losses and finding an alternative is simply a more sensible decision.

Mark Williams turned pro in 2002, and didn’t enjoy many highlights early in his career. In fact, he managed just two top-10 finishes in his first nine years as a professional on the Sunshine Tour, and you certainly could have forgiven him for throwing in the towel given that he’d amassed less than R180 000 during that period. But he didn’t. And he was right not to.

He showed signs of progression in the 2011 season with two further finishes in the top 10, but in 2012, he made the decision to play on the Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage – the Sunshine Tour’s equivalent of the Challenge Tour. While the available prize money would struggle to pay the rent for many, Williams saw the bigger picture and used it as a chance to improve his game.

And his patience and consistency meant he was a regular contender at these events. But his crowning achievement came at the Tour’s season-ending showpiece– The Big Easy Tour Championship at the Els Club Copperleaf. He stormed to victory under intense pressure with a sensational 67 on the final day at the 7 123 metre course, and secured a fourth-place finish in the Order of Merit as a result. It was without question a defining moment for the 28 year-old.

This week he returns to the self-same Copperleaf course in the co-sanctioned Tshwane Open, and his three-under opening round of 69 in tough conditions was indicative of how far he has come.

“I’m very happy with how it went today,” Williams told supersport.com. “I had one stupid double which cost me a bit, but I played solidly and I kept the ball in play. The fairways are wide which obviously makes life much easier.

“I’ve got good memories of this course, so hopefully I can just keep it going. It’s really nice to be back here, and especially in such a great tournament. I’m just excited to get out there and play some more good golf, because the course suits my eye and I’m starting to get my game back. So let’s see if it can continue through the weekend.”

The Tour Championship was the pre-cursor to an even bigger breakthrough week for Williams, however. At the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open in November, he stood tall and led the R2 million tournament from day one to the 72nd hole. With a one-stroke lead playing the final hole, he made a heart-breaking bogey which forced him to settle for a place in a four-man playoff. Sadly, he lost out to Jake Roos on the second playoff hole.

Williams refused to take the disappointment too hard though, and instead chose to be philosophical about what he achieved that week. However, he hasn’t quite been able to continue the momentum since, and he concedes that the weight of increased expectation may have got the better of him.

“You know what; surprisingly Cape Town didn’t hurt as much as I thought it was going to. I really took a lot from it. I was leading that event pretty much the whole way through until the very last hole. It gave me a lot of confidence,” Williams explained.

He continued: “But my expectations after that went up quite a bit, and I’ve struggled since then. I think I went into every week thinking it was going to be like that, and that’s not how golf really works. So I’m just slowly working my way back, and it’s just starting to feel good again. Hopefully as the confidence keeps rising, the results will come.”

While he may not be completely satisfied with results in the last couple of weeks, Williams is clearly a man on the up, and a classic example of a golfer who took a while to blossom. Predicting when a player is going to hit his peak is nigh on impossible, but one feels that the best is yet to come from the Modderfontein professional. And, with the prospect of another successful week in Tshwane ahead, it may come sooner than he thinks.

“It’s just great to be here, and obviously I feel much better about my game than in years gone by. I’ve also found something on the range, and now I’m just looking forward to the rest of the week,” he smiled.

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