South Africa’s Zander Lombard cut a confident, yet mature, figure after an opening four-under 67 to sit in second spot in the first round of The Open at Carnoustie Golf Links on Thursday.
Lombard was tied on the same score with compatriot Erik van Rooyen, both left one shot adrift of American Kevin Kisner who led the way on five-under 66.
“You don’t win it on Thursday, but my ball striking gave me confidence today, and I hope I can take that form into the next two days,” said Lombard.
The 23-year-old said earlier in the week that he wanted to be in contention during the final round, and his solid play has increased his chances.
With Van Rooyen out in the second group of the day, seeing his friend’s name up on top of the leaderboard was a motivating factor.
“Us South Africans, we feed off each other’s confidence. Seeing Erik up there, and Brandon – we’re all good friends. It’s nice seeing each other play well. Hopefully, we can motivate each other to get the win.”
The 444th-ranked player in the world has made just four cuts this season on the European Tour, but it was at the Irish Open two weeks ago which helped earn his ticket to The Open. There he finished tied sixth on a hard and fast links layout similar to Carnoustie this week.
Two weeks ago Van Rooyen was unable to convert an overnight four-shot lead into victory with a final round two-over 74, as he settled for a share of fourth at the Irish Open.
Playing in the second group out, Van Rooyen started with two birdies in a row before adding another at the par five sixth to go out in three-under.
Further birdies followed at the 11th and 15th as he moved to five-under, but a bogey on his final hole dropped the 28-year-old back to four-under.
Van Rooyen is just one of 12 South Africans competing this week, and said it was great to have so many countrymen teeing it up.
“It’s really inspiring, if you look at guys like Ernie [Els], Retief [Goosen], Louis [Oosthuizen] and Charl [Schwartzel]. We are always trying to follow in their footsteps. It’s awesome to have so many South Africans here.”
Van Rooyen also mentioned how his work with vision specialist Sherylle Calder over the last 18 months has helped. Calder has worked with a number of top SA sportsman including Els before he won the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes, as well as the Springbok Rugby team when they won the World Cup in 2007.
“I started working with her just over a year-and-a-half ago. She has been a massive help for me. She helps me specifically with my putting, but she is also a performance coach so she helps get me in the right mindset.”
Surprisingly, Van Rooyen has not yet met the ‘Black Knight’, but that meeting is now imminent.
“I have not yet met Gary Player so I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Brandon Stone who won the Scottish Open last week with a stunning final round 10-under 60, opened with a solid three-under 68.