South Africa’s Martin Vorster carded a four-under-par 66 to claim a one shot lead after the first round of the Junior Open staged over the Eden Course at St Andrews.
The giant 16-year-old member of the Louis Oosthuizen Golf Academy goes into the second round with a slender advantage over Argentina’s Abel Gallegos while 13-year-old Englishman Joshua Berry from Doncaster birdied the last three holes to post a two-under-par 68 and share third place with Japan’s Tsubasa Kajitani and Adam Pedersen from Denmark.
South African success
South Africans have already enjoyed a successful summer in Scotland with Jovan Rebula winning The Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen and Brandon Stone carding a closing round of 60 to storm to victory at last weekend’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane and Forster will be hoping complete an impressive treble after taking advantage of the benign early morning conditions.
The South African No. 3 started his round with a birdie out of a divot on the opening hole. He dropped a shot when he three-putted the sixth but then went on to birdie the ninth, 14th, 15th and 16th to set a target nobody could match.
“It was a great start to my round,” said Vorster whose biggest win to date came at last year’s Italian Boys Under-16 Championship. “I was a bit annoyed to walk up and find my tee shot in a divot but I took a pitching wedge and managed to bump-and-run it to about a foot.
“I really enjoyed it out there. I haven’t played any links golf for four years but it was every bit as much fun as I remembered it to be. We also got a bit lucky with the weather. It was about a one-and-a-half club wind which isn’t much for Scotland. I know it can get a lot worse and wouldn’t be surprised if we get some later this week.”
Gallegos in second
16-year-old Gallegos from the Pilar Golf Club in Buenos Aires also birdied the 326-yard opening hole and then played the next 15 holes in one-under-par before playing his shot of the round on the 18th where he hit his tee shot onto a path to the left of the green, got relief and then pitched to an inch to secure a closing birdie.
Berry only turned 13 in May but he has already made a name for himself this summer by becoming the first English player to win the French Under-14 Championship at Chantilly and he arrived at the Home of Golf fresh from an eighth place finish at the recent Belgian Under-14 Championship at Royal Waterloo.
He finished his round with consecutive birdies on his last three holes but seemed just as excited about getting a selfie with 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year and 2008 Junior Open runner-up Jordan Spieth, who had surprised competitors by turning up for the opening ceremony yesterday evening.
Meeting a Champion
“I played well all the way round but didn’t hole much until the last three holes,” said Berry before going to watch practice at The Open at Carnoustie.
“It’s a good start but there’s a long way to go. The win in France did a lot for my confidence and it has made me practise harder because I want to try to compete with the older boys.
“It’s a great experience to play in The Junior Open and something I won’t forget,” he added.
“Last’s night meeting Jordan Spieth was fantastic. We got a group picture with him and I also managed to a get selfie. It was a bit sneaky but I spotted he was alone for a couple of moments so went over and asked if he would do it for me.”
Further down the leaderboard are Australia’s Thomas Heaton, New Zealand’s Jayden Ford and Canada’s Ethan Choi who were tied-sixth on 69 while America’s Rose Zhang, Portugal’s Daniel Rodrigues, Brazil’s Guilherme Grinberg, Malaysia’s Vinisha Gunaseelan and Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul all shared ninth place on level par 70.
Thitikul became the youngest-ever winner on the Ladies European Tour when she won the 2017 Ladies European Thailand Championship aged just 14 and she went on to create more history earlier this year when she claimed the title at the inaugural Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore.
She was among the last competitors to complete her first round carding two birdies over her last three holes to move within four shots of the first round lead.
The Junior Open continues tomorrow with the leading 80 players and those tying for 80th place progressing to Wednesday’s final round.