Thabo holds his own on grand stage
When it comes to prospects in South African golf, they don’t come much brighter than Thabo Maseko. The 20-year-old announced himself as a player for the future in 2010 when he represented his country as an amateur at the Eisenhower Trophy. Later that year he finished inside the top 30 at the Scottish Amateur, and he turned pro at the end of 2011.
The realities of professional golf hit hard during his rookie season in 2012, and his total earnings of R26 000 saw him finish way down in 119th place in the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit. However, Maseko wasn’t to be deterred, and a final round of 66 at last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am in George earned him a finish in the top 25.
It looks as though it’s about to get even better for the Johannesburg professional though. A 63 in the pre-qualifying for the co-sanctioned Tshwane Open on Tuesday earned him a place in the €1.5 million event, and, on Thursday, he picked up from where he left off with four birdies in his first eight holes. An ugly triple-bogey seven at the ninth hole scuppered his progress somewhat, but an eagle on the par-five 15th hole steered him to an impressive two-under opening round of 70.
“I’m playing nicely at the moment,” Maseko said. “I really got it going on the front nine. I had a big hiccup on the ninth hole though. I took three shots to get out the bunker which obviously wasn’t great, but I fought hard after that. I made another bogey on the 13th, but an eagle on the fourth-last hole got me right back on track. I’m pleased with my fightback, and I’ll take the two under and run.”
As for the indiscretion at the ninth, Maseko was unwilling to blame the course, and admitted some poor decision-making had cost him.
“I didn’t play that nine yesterday, so I didn’t really get a feel for the bunkers. There was a bit of sand, and I tried to get a bit too cute. But there’s no excuses – it was just a terrible couple of shots,” he laughed.
The showpiece in Tshwane is the sixth event of the Sunshine Tour’s summer season to be co-sanctioned with the European Tour, and the considerably more lucrative prize fund offers players like Maseko a chance to get a head-start in their season. However, in a star-studded field, nerves are always a factor, and the sense of occasion has the ability to overwhelm. Maseko views it differently though, and feels that he’s earned his right to compete.
“I feel like if you pre-qualify, you kind of deserve to be here. In that sense, the pressure’s off. I shot the lowest score of my career on Tuesday, so I know that I’m playing well and I’ve just got to stick to my game-plan. But obviously there will always still be a few nerves. I mean, the first shot of the day I couldn’t even feel my hands!” he conceded with a smile.
“But as you keep going, everything just starts to fall into place, and I felt comfortable out there. So I’m pretty happy with the way things are turning out at the moment,” he added.
Maseko’s score of 70 appears a to be a good one around the 7 123-metre course, and, with the wind set to pick up as the afternoon progresses, many might look at his score with envy by the day’s end. Even with 54 holes still to play, he believes that, with form on his side, he has what it takes to kick on from the favourable start.
“I’m driving the ball well and it gives me the opportunity to hit greens. From there you just have to convert the putts, but it’s down to your driving here. The course isn’t unreasonably long, but if the wind gets up it’s going to be tricky so you have to find the fairways,” Maseko observed.
He continued: “I’m putting nicely and I’m hitting the ball well. I’ve just got to keep my head. The key is just to stay in the present and not get too far ahead of myself. If I can do that, hopefully it will all work out. But hey, we’ll see how it all works out tomorrow.”