IN AUGUST COMPANY
Aldrich Potgieter prepped and primed for first Masters
Aldrich Potgieter is perhaps still too young to accurately predict his future, but his rise through the ranks over the past two years suggests he has a bright career. His first Masters is an important step.
Former champion Charl Schwartzel and 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen will carry the hopes of Mzansi on their shoulders when the 87th Masters tees off at Augusta on Thursday, but 2022 Amateur champion Aldrich Potgieter – who completes the South African Triad – won’t be there just to soak up the experience.
The GolfRSA National Squad member earned his first trip to Augusta National courtesy of victory in the prestigious Amateur Championship in 2022. That win also secured him spots in The Open and the US Open.
In his third start on his first trip to the UK, and on a links course, Potgieter staked himself to a 7-up lead over England’s Sam Bairstow through the morning 18, then rode it to a 3-and-2 victory at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
The 17-year-old became the second-youngest winner in the 127-year history of the Amateur Championship, a year younger than the first South African to lift the prestigious title, Bobby Cole, in 1966 and a year older than the youngest, Matteo Manassero, the winner in 2009.
In the nine months since his triumph in England. Potgieter has remained on the rise and the Mossel Bay teen arrived in Augusta with some great form.
He went wire-to-wire at Sage Valley Golf Club, playing against some of the best juniors in the world in the limited-field Junior Invitational, and won by 10 strokes. A week later he defeated reigning US Amateur champion Sam Bennett 5-up to lift the Georgia Cup title at The Golf Club Georgia.
“The trip to the United States has been an amazing experience so far,” Potgieter said. “It’s my first time out here, and I wanted a good start. My game at Sage Valley and The Golf Club Georgia was very solid, and I was happy to kick off the trip with two wins.”
Potgieter has dreamt of playing in, and winning, the Masters since he got serious about golf at the age of eight when the family relocated to Australia. So far, Augusta and the Masters experience has exceeded all his expectations.
“Being in a field of world-class golfers, you don’t know what to expect, but the amateurs are treated incredibly well, and right away I felt like I am part of something special,” he said on the eve of the season’s first Major.
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“To have the chance to have this experience at 18 is an incredible privilege. I got goosebumps driving down the famous Magnolia Lane.
“The Amateur Dinner was something really special. Afterwards we slept in The Crow’s Nest. It was a little cramped with six of us, because it’s not big, but what an experience. It’s the stuff of dreams.”
On the rise
Potgieter is perhaps still too young to accurately predict his future, but his rise through the ranks over the past two years forcefully argues for a bright career.
Just four years ago he was ranked 6,000th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Today Potgieter is the 33rd-highest-ranked golfer in the global amateur game.
He launched his ascension with a commanding nine-stroke victory in the 2020 South Australian Junior Masters and continued the upward trajectory with a 2021 Western Australian Amateur win and runner-up finish in the Australian Boys’ Amateur Championship.
After the family moved back to South Africa in late 2021, his career really took off.
Third place in the prestigious 2022 African Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Leopard Creek in February was followed by victory in the Nomads South African Juniors International in March.
A fortnight later, he won the Nomads SA Boys Under-19 Stroke Play Championship and backed up the tournament record 20-shot victory at Royal Cape with an 8 and 7 win to lift the Match Play title.
He became only the fifth junior since 1963 to complete the rare double after Richard Sterne (1999), Dylan Frittelli (2008), Zander Gous (2013) and Jayden Schaper (2015).
He romped to another commanding victory in the Western Province Amateur and continued to dominate on the GolfRSA Open circuit after his return from the National Squad Tour to the UK.
He represented South Africa at the World Amateur Team Championship in France and the International Team for the Junior Presidents Cup, and finished the year fourth in the GolfRSA Open Rankings and leading the Junior standings.
Since his arrival in South Africa Potgieter has shown that in addition to talent, grit and determination, he is also keen to learn, and he has certainly made the most of opportunities to gain inside knowledge of the championship track before his start on Thursday.
In his first practice round he had 2017 champion Sergio Garcia for company and in the second he played with Charl Schwartzel, the champion in 2011, and his mentor, 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.
“I had a great time with Sergio and learned a lot from his course management, and playing with Louis and Charl was a great learning curve,” Potgieter said.
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“Louis and I talked about a lot of things, like how things are at home, my career plans and some of the holes.
“Louis is a guy that just plays and likes to chat, but Charl is more reserved. He gave me some great lines, like on the ninth. If you are putting off the slope, it’s very quick.
“He showed me that I should use the lip of the bunker. You run it past the hole, and it comes back a few feet, instead of running 40 feet past the hole with a straight putt. I never would have thought to take that as an option.
“I’m really looking forward to playing with him in the first two rounds.”
In Wednesday’s Masters Par 3 Contest he was paired with 2008 champion Trevor Immelman and evergreen Gary Player, the winner in 1961, 1974 and 1978.
Potgieter is the fifth South African amateur to tee it up at the Masters, following Cole in 1967, Tim Clark in 1998, Immelman in 1999 and Jovan Rebula in 2019. Only Cole and Immelman made the weekend, and the first 36 holes will determine whether Potgieter has a long or short week at Augusta.
Also aiming to get the prestigious Silver Cup are world No 1 Gordon Sargent and Bennett (No 6), both from the US, Latin America Amateur winner Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira from Argentina (No 26), Australia’s Asia-Pacific Amateur champion Harrison Crowe (No 34), American Ben Carr (No 46), and the runner-up in the 2022 US Amateur and reigning US Mid-Amateur champion Matthew McLean from Ireland.
Sargent became the first amateur to accept a special invitation since Aaron Baddeley in 2000 and is heavily tipped to win the amateur challenge, but whichever way the chips fall for Potgieter, he will come away a better player. DM