SA’s Pienaar celebrates international breakthrough in Cape Town
The best visually impaired golfers in the world gathered in Cape Town and showcased their skills in tough conditions.
Charlene Pienaar became South Africa’s first female disabled world champion when she won her division in the 2023 ISPS Handa IBGA World Blind Championships at Milnerton Golf Club.
Canadian Kiefer Jones defended the title he won in Rome in 2018, while Englishman Andy Gilford and Alejandro de Miguel from Spain tasted their first global success.
A mere two days after she lifted the Women’s title in the South African Blind Open, South Africa’s Pienaar was in the ascendancy again — this time challenging for a first world title in the B3 Division in the international tournament at the same venue.
Sleeping on an overnight lead of six shots, the petite Benoni golfer withstood the challenge posed by a vicious southwesterly wind, gusting up to 35km per hour throughout the round, and held off Austrian Karin Becker to prevail by five strokes.
“It is an amazing feeling to lift the trophy, especially after contending in this difficult wind. I am extremely thankful,” said Pienaar, who carded rounds of 101 and 114.
She hopes her victory will afford more disabled women the opportunity to play the game.
“I hope this victory will open up more doors, not only for myself, but for other younger players as well as for more women to participate globally.”
Jones — the 2023 South African Blind Open champion — also doubled up, firing rounds of 80 and 83 to win the B3 Division by eight strokes over John Eakin from England.
Leading by four strokes overnight, the 33-year-old Calgary golfer persisted through a difficult start to his final round as he sandwiched double-bogeys at the second and fourth either side of a terrific par save at the third hole after short-siding himself right of the green.
He turned in 41 after a further drop at the seventh and matched his outward nine coming home.
Jones remarked that Eakin’s performance helped galvanise his own play.
“John played amazing golf today, and made me want to push harder,” Jones said “I’m happy to get it done. That’s why we came out here. Now it feels like a completed job.”
While the clubs were in his hands for 36 holes, Jones was quick to credit George Norman, the club’s caddie master, who did duty as his guide for both tournaments.
“Having a guy like George tell me little secrets about the course — explaining how the wind works, for example, was incredible. Sometimes it feels like it is going a certain direction, but it plays the other way,” Jones said.
“George has been here for years; he knows every nook and cranny, and his assistance was a defining factor in my success.
“It has been a fantastic first trip to South Africa. We played a great course, saw a lot of sights in Cape Town and made friends from all over the world. I look forward to playing another SA Blind Open one day and having the opportunity to explore more of this lovely country.”
Three days after he lost out on the B2 Division title to Tyler Cashman in the SA Blind Open, Gilford got his reward. He turned the tables on the 20-year-old American with rounds of 85 and 92 to celebrate an emotional triumph with a resounding 14-stroke victory.
While the Ham Manor Golf Club member suffered periodic setbacks with three triple-bogeys during the course, a brace of birdies on the sixth and 16th holes kept him motivated.
The special nature of Gilford’s victory was two-fold. The Englishman had competed in blind golf events for the better part of 25 years, and fittingly broke his duck with his wife Melanie as his guide.
“It’s fantastic to share this amazing moment with my wife,” said a beaming Gilford. “I lost my sight as a child and suffered from low confidence, but golf empowered me to beat all the barriers.
“I hope that I can inspire children in a similar position to conquer their circumstances and that my wife and I can motivate more people to get involved. If you are losing your sight, blind golf will give you a second lease on life.”
De Miguel made it a trio of double winners in Milnerton, and the Spaniard was equally thrilled to secure his first world championship win in the B1 Division.
“I’ve played many Opens, but this is my first experience of the World Championship, so I am extremely happy to have won. It feels great to travel all the way to South Africa and to fly my country’s flag with pride,” said De Miguel. He overturned a six-shot deficit in the final round to prevail by 10 shots over overnight leader Zohar Sharon from Israel. DM