Johannesburg - At 16 years, two months and 26 days, Mpumalanga teenager Thriston Lawrence became the youngest champion of the South African Amateur title in the 106 year history of the event at Country Club Johannesburg on Friday.
Playing with the steadfast persistence of a man many years his senior, the Nelspruit golfer fought his way into the records books with an emphatic 9-and-8 victory over Southern Cape’s Andrew Light.
"You know, I didn’t have any expectations when I arrived here at the start of the week," Lawrence said.
"I just wanted to gain experience. If I did well, it would have been a bonus."
Lawrence not only bettered the previous youngest player record set by Desvonde Botes in 1991 by just over two months, but his winning margin was the biggest since Ettienne Groenewald lifted the trophy at Royal Johannesburg in 1980 with the same result.
Demonstrating maturity well beyond his years, Lawrence stuck to a well-laid game plan of keeping the ball in play and relied on a red-hot short game to win the 36-hole final in his SA Amateur debut.
The teenager took charge at the par-four 11th after Light bogeyed the hole and never took his foot off the gas again.
After the first 18 holes, Lawrence was five up and extended his lead to nine after 27 holes. At his second visit to the par-four 10th, Lawrence’s approach pitched just off the front edge of the green.
He chipped it to just inside a foot, leaving Light under pressure to hole out from the edge of the green to extend the match.
However, the 23-year-old’s putt came up short and Lawrence could finally celebrate a larger-than-life performance.
"I knew what I had to do to give myself a chance and I’m really proud of how I was able to stay calm and keep my focus going," Lawrence said.
"I didn’t get ahead of myself. The first time I thought I could actually win this was when I got to the seventh and I was eight ahead."
Lawrence said it was still all too much to take in.
"Knowing that my name will go into the history books with Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen...wow, that’s incredible," he said.
"I can’t get my head around it."
The young golfer rose to prominence when he first represented Mpumalanga at the SA Junior Inter-Provincial at the age of 13 and won the SA Boys Under-14 Stroke Play, but he warranted serious attention when he claimed the SA Boys Under-19 Match Play Championship at Katberg last year.
Lawrence was only 15 when he made the Mpumalanga team for last year’s South African Inter-Provincial, where he underlined his growing stature as the team’s second most valued player.
After winning a Junior Order of Merit in January, the young gun wet his feet on the senior circuit with a tie for 10th in his South African Stroke Play debut.
Lawrence said he will campaign on the junior and senior circuits this year and hoped to win a national amateur championship.
If he can get into and maintain a top five ranking, a pro tour could be on the cards next year.
"We’ll take it step by step," said dad Steven, who did bag-duty all week and was happy to have his heart-rate return to normal after his son’s historic triumph.
"Thriston is very composed, very calm and great under pressure. He is certainly mature enough to turn pro next year, but first we are looking for consistency and top five finishes. If he gets that, we’ll talk about the pro circuit."