Africa Amateur Championship

Altin Van Der Merwe targets back-to-back wins ahead of Africa Amateur Championship

The R&A
20 Feb 24
3 mins

Fresh off the back of a dramatic play-off win in the Golf RSA International Amateur, Altin van der Merwe is eyeing up another prize with the inaugural Africa Amateur Championship firmly in his sights at Leopard Creek this week. 

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Kruger National Park, the Africa Amateur Championship is being played from 21-24 February with 72 players from 24 nations competing in the field.  The winner will earn exemptions into The 152nd Open at Royal Troon, The Amateur Championship, the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Waterfall City Tournament of Champions powered by Attacq.  The 27-year-old, who is a member of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, fired a stunning final round 64 at Houghton Golf Club in Johannesburg to force a play-off with Jack Ingham at the Golf RSA International Amateur.  He spectacularly holed out from a greenside bunker to pip the Dutch amateur to the title – with credit being given to his compatriot and rival this week, Christiaan Maas. 

Memorable shot

“For the final round, I told myself I had to play it in eight or nine-under-par and I ended up with a 64 to get me into a play-off,” explained van der Merwe.  “The shot out of the bunker was just great  – it's actually something Christiaan Maas taught me when we were in Abu Dhabi for the Eisenhower Trophy, o open up my club face horizontally or vertically on the ground. It feels like you're going to shank the ball out of the bunker, and he said ‘just swing through it’ and it's that shot I've practised over and over again. That's the shot I hit. I must thank Maasy for that.” While camaraderie remains at the core of the group of young South African golfers vying for the title, including van der Merwe, Maas and the likes of Jordan Burnand, a friendly, but competitive rivalry may rear its head if they find themselves in contention come the final round on Saturday.  “There's definitely a couple of battles between friends this week. We know the course at Leopard Creek well and so there will be a number that we’ll all try and chase, depending on the weather,” said van der Merwe.  “We don't really know too much about the other golfers from Africa and what they're going to bring to the table but we're going to play the course as we always do. You'll definitely see some camaraderie out there between friends – players like Maasy and Jordan. You'll see some friendly competition at the start and at the end it'll get a bit more serious.”

Adel Balala - Kenya

"I've played Leopard Creek a few times. On this course I'd say my mental strength is what's going to get me through the four rounds. It’s absolutely amazing and definitely the best destination I've ever played.”

In fine form

Indeed, Burnand comes into the championship after a remarkable month-long period in which he fought off pneumonia and bronchitis before going on to win the South African Stroke Play Championship and finish runner-up in the South African Amateur Championship to Scotland’s Gregor Graham.  “It's been an unbelievable last three or four weeks for me,” said Burnand. “I got pneumonia and bronchitis, then managed to win the Stroke Play, lost in the final of the Amateur and then finished top ten last week in the Golf RSA International Amateur.  “I feel very confident this week. It’s a massive opportunity with a limited field and the recent form that I've been having. I do feel excited to be playing, but it's a new week, new opportunity, so we need to take one shot at a time and see what happens after 72 holes.  “I think it would be absolutely awesome to win the first African Amateur, especially in your home country, and it would be really special to have your name on the trophy for many years to come. Obviously, all the doors will open with a victory, like playing in The Open. It’s just massive.”

Kenya hopes

Adel Balala is one of eight players in the field representing Kenya this week and the 25-year-old, who won the Ruiru Open last year and has played in the Magical Kenyan Open on the DP World Tour, is feeling confident about his chances at Leopard Creek.  “I feel confident about contending this week and I would say experience helps me a lot. I’ve been playing for a very long time,” said Balala.  “I’ve seen the player list and there are a few good players , but most definitely I have high chances of playing well. I've had a good couple of weeks, training a lot, and yeah, I've played Leopard Creek a few times. On this course I'd say  my mental strength is what's going to get me through the four rounds. It’s absolutely amazing and definitely the best destination I've ever played.” While the prospect of winning the first ever Africa Amateur would spark a host of emotions for Balala, the wider significance of becoming champion is not lost on the Kenyan.

Providing inspiration

“Winning the Africa Amateur would bring a lot of emotions because it's been a long journey for me, especially in the elite amateur level,” said Balala.  “To get my first win at the African Amateur would be so significant because I'd be giving hope not only to the people around me but to all Kenyan golfers who are aspiring to reach great heights. My success comes through giving hope and seeing other people flourish through my career.” Rolex is an event partner of the Africa Amateur Championship and Africa Amateur Women’s Invitational and is committed to supporting The R&A’s professional and amateur championships. The Swiss watchmaker’s contribution to excellence in golf is based on a rich heritage stretching back almost 60 years, forged through pivotal partnerships at every level of the game, from the sport’s leading professional and amateur competitions and organisations, to players at the pinnacle of their discipline and younger talents embarking on their journey towards greatness.