Haydn Porteous described Brandon Stone’s SA Open triumph last weekend as “a kick up the arse” and the fellow former amateur star claimed his first European Tour victory on Sunday with a composed two-stroke victory in the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
Porteous and Stone were great amateur rivals and team-mates in the 2012 Eisenhower Trophy, but the new South African Open champion just seemed to be adjusting that little bit quicker to life as a professional golfer, mostly due to his exemplary work ethic. Until Sunday, when Porteous joined him as an exempt player on the European Tour for the next two years, having put behind him a couple of years of living and practising like an amateur while playing as a professional.
“Brandon’s win was a big kick up the arse for me, he has been doing all the right things, while I havn’t. It was very motivational and inspirational to see him win and I knew I couldn’t carry on the way I was. I needed to get into the right frame of mind and I knew I could practise more and gym harder. If you know you’re doing the right things, then your confidence also increases,” Porteous said after shooting a rock-solid 69 to finish on 18-under-par.
As an amateur, Porteous, who won the SA Strokeplay twice, was used to just hitting it long and straight and dominating courses and his opposition. He learnt his lesson last weekend at the SA Open, missing the cut by three shots after shooting 79 in the second round at Glendower, that such tactics can be folly on tougher, more testing professional layouts.
“I was definitely more conservative this week, especially since the East Course is quite long. I had a good game plan, aiming for the middle of the green all the time. I’ve always been more of a ‘feel’ golfer, which was the biggest difference between me and Brandon. He’s always been very precise and methodical, while I can be all over the place. But I watched the way he won at Glendower and I learnt a lot over those four days,” Porteous said.
“My mother always said I must sound confident, but she said I mustn’t be arrogant. There is a hint of arrogance in me, but I also felt confident this week, that 66 in the first round was what I was looking for to get my confidence back,” Porteous said.
The 21-year-old’s iron play was absolutely immaculate as he achieved the astonishing feat of hitting all 18 greens in regulation, but his putter was frustratingly cold, meaning the final round was more nerve-wracking than it should have been.
Porteous was two behind Zander Lombard, who was also on South Africa’s 2012 Eisenhower Trophy team, after six holes on Sunday and was missing a lot of putts left.
Sweden’s Bjorn Akesson was also making a charge with three successive birdies from the sixth hole taking him to five-under for the round and 16-under for the tournament, alongside Lombard.
The spark for Porteous was the par-five eighth hole when he hit his third from the bunker, over another bunker, seven feet from the hole and finally nailed a birdie putt.
He was all square with Lombard by the time they reached the turn as the 20-year-old was unable to make a five-footer for par on the ninth hole.
The challenge of American Daniel Im, who also reached 16-under with three birdies on the front nine, was ended by bogeys on the 11th and 14thholes, while the other overnight leader, Anthony Wall, was struggling off the tee and could only gain one stroke on the front nine, before bogeying the 10th and then coming home in pars.
An inch-perfect approach shot on the par-four 14th led to an easy birdie for Porteous and an emotional shout of “Come on!”, but Lombard kept the pressure on with an amazing 35-foot putt for birdie on the par-four 15th.
An unfortunate last hole ruled Akesson out as he three-putted for bogey and Porteous was extremely solid on the closing holes, a superb drive on the 18th being followed by an excellent five-iron on to the green, 15 feet from the flag.
Porteous was happy to take two putts for birdie and an ultimately comfortable victory, followed by some tears, numerous hugs and a place in the Open Championship.
“It’s a dream come true, it was a mindblowing feeling on the 18th green, a real goosebumps moment. To have a two-year exemption now means there is no pressure, I can just go out and play. There are no worries, I can just play golf. The doors that have opened for me now are just incredible and it’s a dream I’ve had since I was a child to play on the European Tour,” Porteous said.
Lombard birdied the last, making a clutch putt for birdie to also gain a place in the Open Championship, a day before his 21st birthday.
Lombard’s 71 left him alone in second on 16-under-par, while Akesson, Im, Wall and South African Justin Walters were tied for third on 15-under. Wall claimed the third and last Open Championship place courtesy of his superior world ranking.