Merrick Bremner was at 225:1 to win the South African Open at the start of the first round on Thursday.
I know because I was reliably informed by a punter who had bet on the 26-year-old to win the second-oldest national open in world golf.
A few hours later, Bremner was atop the leaderboard with an eight-under-par 64 and was the overnight leader after the first round of the co-sanctioned European/Sunshine tour event at Serengeti Golf Estate near Kempton Park.
Those odds will now be considerably shortened and I’m left ruing the fact I didn’t talk to the punter a day earlier.
Bremner, who was in the sixth three-ball out at 7.05am, came roaring out from the blocks with birdies on the first two holes, and he also claimed three successive birdies coming in to shoot a brilliant 30 for the front nine. The Pretoria resident then eased off on the back nine, coming home in 34.
It’s not that the chunky golfer was getting lazy either. Rather, it was a conscious decision to make sure he converted his great start into a great round.
“I played fantastically on the front nine. I didn’t miss a green and in theory I could have shot 28. Then I made the turn and still hit good shots, but I started thinking a bit more and playing clever golf. I wasn’t as aggressive as normal because I wanted to hold my round together and post a decent score, not four- or five-under. I made sure I hit the fairway and then made sure I hit the right part of the green for a makeable chance,” Bremner explained after his round.
Bremner, who began playing golf just down the road at Kempton Park Golf Club, says his clear thinking on the course was thanks to the work he’s done with a sports psychologist.
“I think it’s got a lot to do with the work I’ve been putting in behind the scenes, not only on the golf course but also with a mental coach by the name of Tim Goodenough. Now my thought patterns and decision-making on the course have changed. Now I can see the bigger picture and it’s not just about brawn, it’s sometimes about the brain as well,” Bremner said.
Bremner is renowned for being a big-hitter and his biggest drive was 345 metres, into the wind, on the par-five 16th. Lady Luck was on his side there, though, as she kept his pulled tee-shot out of serious trouble and allowed him to hit his second over the water and on to the green in two, leading to his eighth birdie.
But on a course that has plenty of threats with lethal rough just off the fairways, the fact that he did not make a single bogey suggests the up-and-coming Bremner is on track to make a big name for himself this weekend.
Bremner is two strokes ahead of another young South African in Matthew Carvell, but Henrik Stenson (-6) and Charl Schwartzel (-4) are lurking dangerously in the top 10.
Carvell is a Sunshine Tour journeyman, having never finished higher than 48th on the Order of Merit, but the 27-year-old is just going to enjoy the experience.
“This is my first SA Open and my first press conference! It’s a little bit overwhelming so I’m just trying to enjoy the week and see what happens. Maybe I’ll get some good TV coverage!” he joked.
Schwartzel was also impressive in posting six birdies, while his only blemish came on the par-three 12th, which he double-bogeyed. The 2011 Masters champion said it was a useful reminder of how wide-awake you had to be on the sloping Serengeti greens.
“I made that double by four-putting. It was from off the green, but I used the putter four times, which wasn’t ideal. But the greens are severe and you’ve got to pay really good attention to where you hit your second shots. You can get caught off-guard here very quickly and make a soft bogey on these greens, so you’ve got to be wide awake,” Schwartzel said. DM
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