Johannesburg - Merrick Bremner’s eight-under-par 64 to lead the South African Open after the first round was impressive.
The fact that it was a joint course record at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate was equally impressive. So too his two-stroke lead over the field.
But none of it was as impressive as the mental switch Bremner made between the ninth green and 10th tee on Thursday.
For a man who started his round with three birdies in four holes, and closed off the front nine with three straight birdies for a 30, and someone who hits the ball like he holds a grudge against it, Bremner showed considerable restraint and maturity to play his back nine more conservatively.
Sure, for Bremner conservative is still a golfer who can “pull” a tee shot into the wind on the par-five 16th and hit it 345m.
But he took two birdies on the back nine and left as the leader of the SA Open, rather than someone who threw away a good round as has happened before.
“I made the turn and started thinking a bit more and playing clever golf rather than showing too much aggression. I wanted to hold my round together and post a decent score, and not come in with five or four under. So I played more conservatively,” said Bremner.
His nearest challengers are Henrik Stenson and SA Open rookie Matthew Carvell on six under.
Stenson said he hit the ball the best he has the past few years, and it showed when he drove the 330m par-four 17th green and made the 15-foot putt for a two.
Charl Schwartzel opened with a 68, and Martin Kaymer a 70. Amateur Terence Boardman made an incredible start to this year’s championship when he aced the par-three 12th hole - his third hole of the day.
Bremner has worked hard with a sports psychologist to balance his power game with a bit of strategy.
“That led to my change in decision after nine holes. I can see the bigger picture now. It’s not just about brawn. Sometimes you need a bit of brain as well.”
Not that Bremner didn’t feel a tinge of excitement at being six under through nine holes in the SA Open.
“At the start of the SA Open, that’s a pretty big thing. But I’ve just got to take the positives out of playing great, try not to think about my lead, and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Carvell is similarly overwhelmed at his start in this tournament. “This is my first SA Open. I’m just trying to enjoy the experience and see what happens. It’s nice to know I can compete with some world-class players in this field.”
Schwartzel was satisfied with his start, marred only by one double bogey. “That was the only flaw. I hit the ball well and was in some good spots on the course. But you’re not going to win it today. You’ve got to keep posting scores and take it on Sunday.”
And Kaymer needed his experience to come back from a double-bogey on his first hole. “It was a bit of a shocker. Straight away you’re two behind after one hole. But I still have three days left.”
And a slow start certainly hasn’t detracted from his enjoyment of the country. Kaymer and his team took in a few tourist sights the day before the first round. “We visited the lion park. For us to see the lions is quite cool,” he said.
First round scores from the co-sanctioned Sunshine and European tour South African Open at Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate on Thursday (RSA unless specified):64 - Merrick Bremner
66 - Matthew Carvell, Henrik Stenson (SWE)
67 - Craig Lee (SCO), Alex Haindl
68 - Darren Fichardt, Charl Schwartzel, Bernd Ritthammer (GER), Adrien Bernadet (FRA), Oliver Bekker, Magnus A Carlsson (SWE), Jake Roos, Michael Jonzon (SWE)
69 - Steven Tiley (ENG), David Drysdale (SCO), Espen Kofstad (NOR), Trevor Fisher Jnr, Richard Sterne, Jaco Ahlers, James Kamte, Anthony Snobeck (FRA), Estanislao Goya (ARG), Peter Whiteford(SCO), Allan Versfeld, Ryan Cairns (ZIM), Michiel Bothma
70 - HP Bacher (AUT), Tommy Fleetwood (ENG), Matthew Southgate (ENG), Martin Kaymer (GER), Oscar Floren (SWE), Andrea Pavan (ITA), Jorge Campillo (ESP), Coenie Bester, Martin du Toit, George Coetzee, Jaco Van Zyl, Lloyd Saltman (SCO), Marc Warren (SCO), Roope Kakko (FIN), Niclas Fasth (SWE), Bradford Vaughan
71 - Wallie Coetsee, Divan van den Heever, George Murray (SCO), Markus Brier (AUT), Toto Thimba (Jnr), Desvonde Botes, Andy Sullivan (ENG), Peter Gustafsson (SWE), Hendrik Buhrmann, David Hewan, Justin Walters, Maarten Lafeber (NED), James Kingston, Hennie Otto, Sam Little (ENG), Alastair Forsyth (SCO), Andrew Johnston (ENG), Martin Maritz, Sam Walker (ENG), Titch Moore, Dean O'Riley
72 - Michael Hollick, Tyrone Ferreira, Sipho Bujela (AMA), Branden Grace, Lasse Jensen(DEN), Dawie Van der Walt, Ulrich van den Berg, Chris Gane (ENG), Attie Schwartzel, Ross Wellington, Zander Lombard (AMA), Pelle Edberg (SWE), Daniel Gaunt (AUS), Ruan de Smidt, Shaun Norris, Martin Wiegele (AUT)
73 - Johan du Buisson, Jeff Inglis (ENG), Knut Borsheim (NOR), Jamie Moul (ENG), Albert Pistorius, Tyrone Mordt, Chris Swanepoel, JG Claassen, Theunis Spangenberg, Aron Zemmer (ITA), Lyle Rowe, David Dixon (ENG), Keith Horne, Gareth Maybin (NIR), Thomas Aiken, Justin Harding, Neil Schietekat, Matthew Baldwin (ENG)
74 - Terence Boardman (AMA), Bryce Easton, Joshua Cunliffe, Andre Cruse, Warren Abery, Sam Hutsby (ENG), Omar Sandys, Gert Myburgh (AMA), Neil Cheetham (ENG), Eddie Pepperell (ENG), Teboho Sefatsa, Louis de Jager, Wil Besseling (NED), Brandon Stone (AMA), Ben Mannix (ENG), Steven O'Hara (SCO)
75 - PH McIntyre, Edouard Dubois (FRA), Grant Muller, Gavan Levenson, Benjamin Hebert (FRA), Garth Mulroy, Vaughn Groenewald, Ockie Strydom, Thomas Norret (DEN), Victor Riu (FRA), Mikael Lundberg(SWE), Lindani Ndwandwe, Doug McGuigan, Pieter Moolman
76 - Paul Dwyer (ENG), Richard McEvoy (ENG), Joakim Lagergren (SWE), Andrew Curlewis, Juan Langeveld, Jacques Kruyswijk (AMA), Christiaan Basson, Charles-Edouard Russo (FRA), Danie van Tonder, Charl Coetzee, Matthew Nixon (ENG)
77 - Ryan Tipping, Jean Hugo, Wayne Westner, Grant Veenstra, Federico Colombo (ITA), John McClean, Brandon Pieters, Coert Groenewald (AMA), Lloyd Kennedy (ENG)
78 - Prinavin Nelson, Haydn Porteous (AMA), Adam Gee (ENG), Thabang Simon
79 - Jbe' Kruger, Jared Harvey, Michael Scholz
80 - Des Terblanche
RTD - Paul Waring (ENG)