Altin Van der Merwe wins Africa Amateur after dramatic playoff

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Altin Van Der Merwe (Photo by Octavio Passos/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

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Altin van der Merwe emerged victorious from a dramatic three-way play-off against Christiaan Maas and Ivan Verster to win the inaugural Africa Amateur Championship at Leopard Creek.

The three South Africans finished deadlocked on 13-under-par after the regulation 72 holes, with van der Merwe seeing an eagle chance at the last slip agonisingly by the hole, but he held his nerve in sudden death to seal the championship with a birdie on the par-5 18th.

“It’s awesome to be the new Africa Amateur Champion. It’s an unbelievable feeling but I don’t think it’ll kick in until later,” said van der Merwe, who shot a final round 70

“The two competitors I played with are two great friends and we went back and forth throughout the day. I think all three of us had the lead at one stage. On the last hole I just pulled a blinder of an approach out and in the play-off I made a good two-putt. I can’t describe the feeling, it means everything to me.”

The 27-year-old has earned 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.

“I can’t wait to play in The Open,” said van der Merwe. “Honestly, I can’t wait. It’s links golf as well, so I’m going to be licking my chops out there with just a little sting two iron all day and I just can’t wait until the time comes.”

It was bitter disappointment and heartbreak for his compatriots.

Having held the overnight lead, Verster slipped to a one-over-par 73 and his hopes of lifting the trophy ended in the play-off after over-shooting the green and finding the water laying behind.

“I’m heartbroken just now,” said an emotional Verster after the play-off.

“I mean, I played unbelievable golf for the first three rounds, so I have to be happy with my performance in some ways. I’ve enjoyed everything about this week and The R&A has been absolutely incredible. It’s been a really special week at Leopard Creek and it’s my favourite place in the world to be.”

Maas, the top-ranked player in the field, could only muster up a level-par 72 and he left the door open for van der Merwe to claim the win after missing his birdie putt in the play-off.

“Today wasn’t a good performance,” reflected Maas.

“I felt like I had a couple of unlucky breaks early on so I couldn’t get momentum. I felt like I could have made a lot more birdies on the back nine and holed the putts. This stuff happens though and that’s why we play golf. The way Altin (van der Merwe) finished was unbelievable.

“This week was a lot of fun, especially coming all the way home from America. I love this place and Mr (Johann) Rupert has always been nice to me with this place, so hopefully one day I can come down here and become a champion.”

Zimbabwe’s Matthew Bramford split the pack of South Africans at the top of the leaderboard with a final round 68 to finish three shots further back on ten-under-par, while there was also drama and excitement earlier in the round as his fellow countryman Keegan Shutt claimed the course record with a remarkable ten-under-par 62.

Starting on the tenth tee, the 17-year-old made six birdies on his front nine before following up with shots picked up on his 11th and 12th holes and then a brilliant eagle on the 15th.

“I’m buzzing, words can’t express it,” exclaimed Shutt, who finished in a tie for eighth.

“I don’t know how I kept my nerves today, especially coming up to the closing holes. I’m just really glad that I held it together. This is my best round of golf competitively and a 62 at this amazing course at Leopard Creek tops everything. Before the day, I would never have imagined being in this position. I’m just so happy that I managed to do it.”

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