South African teen Aldrich Potgieter withstood a stirring comeback from Sam Bairstow to claim a dream win in the 127th Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
In the 36-hole final over the Lancashire links, the 17-year-old Potgieter secured a nail-biting 3-and-2 victory over the Englishman to become the youngest winner of the Amateur since Italy’s Matteo Manassero triumphed in 2009 at age 16.
After a superb, bogey-free 4-under-par 66 in the morning session gave Potgieter a 7-up lead, Bairstow, 23, mounted a comeback to claw back to 2-down with four to play.
There were echoes of Laird Shepherd’s comeback from 8-down at Nairn last year, but Potgieter displayed a maturity beyond his years and an exceptional short game to seal a memorable win on his first visit to the UK.
“It’s really amazing,” the beaming winner said. “I can't really find the words. There's no feeling like it, and I haven’t felt this good before. The words can't even come out of my mind.
“On this golf course, going bogey-free on the first 18 holes was incredible for me. I played really well, and everything worked out well. I knew Sam was going to do better than he did this morning. He didn't play too well, but I knew he was going to come out strong. He wasn’t going to give up. I just had to play steady and keep my lead.”
Potgieter, placed 140th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, can now look forward to competing in the 150th Open at St Andrews next month, the 2023 U.S. Open and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament.
Potgieter, who joins a roll of honour that also includes José María Olazábal, Sergio García and Romain Langasque, also will be invited to play in an event on the DP World Tour.
“I’m really excited,” Potgieter said. “I played the Old Course recently (in the Links Trophy,) and it was really amazing. I think the course is going to get in better shape, so I’m really looking forward to that.
“At the beginning of this week, I just tried to make the cut, make the match play and went from there.”
“Hitting in the fairway puts a lot of pressure on your opponent. Especially when you're not comfortable with the driver, you can hit the 2-iron down the middle of the fairway.”
In front of large crowds in breezy conditions, Potgieter became only the third South African to triumph, after Jovan Rebula at Royal Aberdeen in 2018 and Bobby Cole at Carnoustie in 1966.
Bairstow, the leading Great Britain and Ireland player this week at 19th on WAGR, was bidding to become the first left-hander to win the Amateur in the modern era.
From a 288-man starting field representing 42 countries, the finalists played out an epic contest. Bairstow’s bogey at the second gave Potgieter the early advantage, and he doubled his lead after a birdie at the third. As the Englishman struggled to settle, he made two further bogeys at the fourth and the sixth as Potgieter eased 4-up.
After a delightful approach to the short par-3 ninth, the South African rolled in the short putt to go 5-up. Potgieter looked in trouble on the par-5 11th after pulling his drive, but he drilled a brilliant, low approach and won another hole as Bairstow fluffed his chip. Given that Potgieter plays at Pinnacle Point on the southern coast of South Africa, he is well used to keeping it low in the wind.
It was 7-up to Potgieter after Bairstow bogeyed the par-3 12th, but only his second birdie of the day, at the par-4 13th gave him hope. The Hallowes member continued to battle, sharing the next four holes, but he was bunkered off the 18th tee and found himself 7-down at halfway.
That was the same score that Shepherd found himself down to Monty Scowsill last year before launching an extraordinary comeback that saw him triumph at the 38th.
An errant tee shot from Potgieter at the 21st saw him make his first bogey, allowing Bairstow to win just his second hole and reduce his arrears to 6-down. The South African, a three-time winner at junior level in his homeland this year, hit another poor tee shot at the 22nd, only to rescue a vital half with a 10-foot putt.
Bairstow, who qualified for last year’s Open at Royal St George’s, had renewed belief and holed a 35-foot putt at the 24th to spark a roar from the crowds, but a birdie at the 26th saw Potgieter reclaim a 6-up lead by the turn and stay in control.
However, the Sheffield native made another birdie at the 28th, among five from him in the afternoon round, to keep fighting. A bogey at the 30th from Potgieter and a win from Bairstow at the 31st suddenly saw the Englishman claw within three holes, as the South African continued to find sand. Bairstow claimed a third hole in a row, at the 32nd, but his double bogey at the 33rd ultimately ended his hopes as Potgieter closed it out at the next with a par.
“Hitting in the fairway puts a lot of pressure on your opponent,” Potgieter said. “Especially when you're not comfortable with the driver, you can hit the 2-iron down the middle of the fairway.”
“Aldrich played good golf,” added Bairstow, who was magnanimous in defeat. “I don't think he dropped a shot this morning. Around here, in a bit of wind, that's great golf. I didn't have my best stuff this morning. I was probably just a little bit nervy.
“With all the crowds here, there's a lot of people I know, and that spurred me on a bit this afternoon. I just couldn't get it all the way back. I was a bit emotional at the end with everyone cheering, but unfortunately I couldn't do it for them.
“But I suppose growing up, if you had said to me, ‘Would you ever reach the final of the Amateur? I'd say, ‘no.’ It's quite special.”
The R&A provided live broadcast coverage of the quarterfinals, semifinals and final on randa.org and its YouTube channel – and will do so again next week for the Women’s Amateur Championship at Hunstanton in Norfolk.
After record entries for last week’s championship at the 11-time Open venue and nearby St Annes Old Links, next year’s staging is at Hillside and Southport & Ainsdale.
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