South Africa’s Christiaan Maas conquered a golf course he once thought was ‘impossible’ to claim an impressive five-shot victory and lift the Brabazon Trophy.
When the 18-year-old first clapped eyes on Saunton Golf Club and played a practice round in driving rain and howling wind, he thought he’d struggle to make an impact in his first major event on English soil.
Fast forward four days and after racking up 25 birdies in 72 holes, the young golfer from Pretoria was crowned the English Open Amateur Stroke Play champion.
The teenager started the day one shot ahead of England’s Arron Edwards-Hill and three clear of defending champion Sam Bairstow in his pursuit of the famous Brabazon Trophy that goes to the winner.
However, it soon became clear that the pressure of leading going into the final round was not going to weigh down the teenager from Pretoria.
In fact, he seemed to thrive under the weight of expectation rather than wilt.
In the end, Maas carded a final round 68 to go with previous scores of 65, 70 and 67 for a total of 270 (-14) and a five-shot victory over Edwards-Hill with Ireland’s Matt McClean in third spot a further shot back after a round of 68.
England men’s squad player Bairstow – hoping for a final day charge to hang onto his trophy – had to settle for a closing round of 73 and fourth spot on his own.
Clutching the famous gold trophy and draped in the South African flag, Maas said: “I’m proud to win this tournament – a big one and I don’t really know what to say. I’m just glad I pulled it off.
“The first practice round on this golf course – well, it seemed impossible with all the wind and the rain. The weather was then perfect for me all week so I got lucky on that.”
In truth, there was nothing fortunate about the win as Maas joined compatriots Kyle McClatchie and Charl Schwartzel in winning one of amateur golf’s most prestigious titles.
The foundation for Maas’ victory was laid on the front nine.
Maas – with 20 birdies to his name in the first three rounds – knocked in two more birdie putts on the second and third to stretch his lead.
His next birdie – at the par three, fifth hole – was nothing more than a tap-in after he almost aced his tee shot.
The birdie on the sixth was of a different variety – a tramliner from beyond the green after a wayward approach. At that stage, the advantage over Edwards-Hill had grown to six shots.
Even a dropped shot on the eighth after once again overshooting the green, was nothing more than a blip for Maas who was supported by his colleagues from Golf RSA who had already finished their rounds.
He simply knocked in a 10-footer on the 10th for the fifth birdie of his round and stretched his lead over his English rival and playing partner to seven shots.
“It has to be the best golf, ball-striking wise, I’ve ever played. Off the tee this is the first tournament that I haven’t lost a golf ball!”
“The front nine was good, confirmed Maas.
“I hit solid golf shots and left myself in good positions.
“I had a couple of flyers out of the rough and dropped a shot on eighth but made a great par on 12 when Arron made birdie to keep the momentum going.
“All in all, a great performance.”
To Edwards-Hill’s great credit he never gave up the chase and when he holed a birdie putt on the 12th the Chelmsford golfer felt as if he was in with a real chance to mount a charge.
There could have been a two-shot swing had Maas not somehow got up and down from the cabbage at the back of the 12th green for a miracle par.
It proved to be a telling moment. Maas had the luxury of being able to bogey the par five, 15th and still have a big enough cushion to take the stress out of the closing holes.
For Edwards-Hill, it was a disappointing day.
He said: “I struggled on the firmer greens with distance control and my pace putting wasn’t getting the ball close enough. You can’t leave it six feet every time as you’ll miss eventually.
“It was a shame not to get the win, but I’ll move on and take this week’s performances into the next few months. I think a win is coming and I look forward to the season.”
Meanwhile, the George Henriques Salver – awarded to the leading GB&I player aged under 20 – was won by Tiverton’s Eliot Baker with a 72-hole score of +4.