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Twenty-seven-year-old Thabiso Ngcobo from Pretoria Country Club lined up for his Joburg Open debut when the first round of the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour and European Tour showpiece got underway at the challenging Firethorn Course at Randpark Golf Club today. 

An hour later it was the turn of George golfer Heinrich Bruiners, lining up at the same tee box on the first to get his 2020 tournament underway.

Both Ngcobo and Bruiners, who turned pro in 2017 and 2006 respectively, received sponsor invitations from the City of Joburg to play in the 2020 Joburg Open, which afforded them an automatic pass from having to go through the qualifying rounds in order to play in the tournament. 

The Sunshine Tour, European Tour and City of Joburg each receive three sponsor invites to extend to professionals of their choice.

Since the inception of the tournament, the City of Joburg has used its allocation of sponsor invitations to contribute to the growth and development of transformation players in the country. 

“Over the years, we have maintained our objective of providing golfers from a previously disadvantaged background with a chance to experience for a first time, or to continue getting comfortable with playing at international tournament level. 

“While this experience may be second nature for many other players, for transformation players it is not necessarily the case. This opportunity helps them get accustomed to settling and gaining experience, improving their game and establishing their careers,” says Bongi Mokaba, City of Joburg’s Event Management Director and Tournament Promoter.

The Sunshine Tour’s Tournament Director Ludwick Manyama, who was also recently appointed as the new Transformation Manager of the Tour, and who assists the City of Joburg with identifying players for the sponsor invitations, explains further: “Having grown up around golf, and as the Transformation Manager of the Sunshine Tour, there are certain pre-tournament logistics that have a detracting factor on the mental state and readiness of transformation players. 

“Travel and accommodation costs for themselves and their caddies, and payment of their caddie services and meals tend to be a worry for players who show immense talent, but first have to pass these hurdles before they even step onto the tee box. Since a major part of golf is a mental game, this can seriously affect even the most talented players from truly showing their worth on the fairways.”

Mokaba adds: “Both the young Thabiso and the more experienced Heinrich are immensely talented players, who, with a bit of support could go much further. Thabiso is showing immense potential. He had a great 2019, including notable performances at the KCB Karen Masters in Kenya and at the BET IGT Challenge at Reading where he placed second. He’s great thinker on the course. But he still needs to grow. Put him on a world stage like this more regularly, where he can learn to relax and settle quickly, and you could see a really talented golfer rising to the top over the next few years. With the right support, Thabiso would be one to look out for in the future.”

“We selected Heinrich as well because while he kept his tour card last season, he still had to go through the process of qualifying for the Joburg Open. The sponsor invite removes that process, giving him a direct pass into the tournament, where he can immediately focus on the four days ahead by simply ensuring he prepares himself very well during the practice rounds.”

A former Tour winner, having won the Vodacom Origins of Golf in 2013, Bruiners continues to regularly make the cut, showing his steadfastness in the game. Having made a comeback to the game following a car accident that nearly ended his career just four years after he turned pro, with the right support, Bruiners can become one of the golfing greats of South Africa.

Ngcobo and Bruiners are part of a much smaller field of just 156 players participating at the 2020 Joburg Open due to Covid-19 restrictions, which allow only a single field to ensure health and safety compliance measures are met.

At the end of play of round 1 on Thursday 19 November, Bruiners had a good first round having finishing the day on 70, -1. He birdied both the Par 5’s Holes 4 and 14, but bogeyed the 18th to end his first day -1, alongside former two-time Joburg Open champion Richard Sterne. Ngcobo had a more fluctuating day, having shot four birdies, but then had 5 bogeys and one double bogey, to end his day on 74, 3 over par.

Written by Yolanda Arendse