There should have been a million thoughts going through the head of 18-year-old amateur and national open debutant Jayden Schaper when he made consecutive bogeys on the seventh and eighth holes of the Firethorn course during the second round of the South African Open at Randpark Golf Club on Friday.
The dropped shots meant Schaper had slipped back to five-under-par, perilously close to the cut mark which was four-under. To add to the pressure, he was playing with his idol Louis Oosthuizen, and there were considerable crowds of people milling around to watch a tournament that is full of big names, both local and foreign.
But displaying confidence, maturity and composure beyond his years, Schaper had just one thought and that was climbing back up the leaderboard.
It took just 35 more strokes for Schaper to complete his round, a dazzling back nine including birdies at the 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes.
His 67 has lifted him to 10-under-par overall and he is just one stroke off the lead heading into the weekend. He stands a chance of becoming the first amateur to win the SA Open since the legendary Denis Hutchinson did it in 1959.
The Benoni product is clearly a future champion; never mind his impressive, powerful swing and excellent short game, the most important bit – between his ears – is clearly also working extremely well at such a young age.
“I struggled on the front nine, I just couldn’t get a break, and then I went drop-drop. With the cut so low, you worry about not playing on the weekend, but on the back nine I said to myself that I must just trust my gut and look at the guys in front of me and chase them, rather than worry about those below. And then the putts started to drop and it was really special to be on top of the leaderboard for a bit.
“I think my confidence comes from the fact that I have been in these positions before at amateur level and I try not to change how I approach it. It’s the same 14 clubs in the bag, the same course I’ve played before, it’s just there are more people walking around. I just try to treat it the same as any event, there are obviously nerves but I seem to enjoy those and I feed off them,” Schaper, the first South African to win the Junior Players Championship, arguably the most prestigious junior tournament in the world, said after his round on Friday.
South Africa’s number one ranked junior has smoked a few drives past Oosthuizen in their two rounds together, but he clearly has great respect for the country’s highest-ranked professional.
“It’s been really special to play with Louis, my idol, and especially to both be up near the top of the leaderboard. Golf is the only thing I’ve known growing up and I’ve always loved watching the game on TV, especially when Louis is playing and I remember well him winning the Open in 2010. He and Christiaan Bezuidenhout [the other member of the three-ball] are guys I look up to so much.
“It just makes my first SA Open so much more special, obviously I want to keep up with them and they push you to be better. Just watching Louis’ swing and tempo keeps you in good rhythm, and just the ball-striker he is – so consistent. So the nerves were there for me, with two seasoned guys like that I just didn’t want to look like an amateur,” Schaper said.
There was no chance of that, and Oosthuizen was happy to talk about how impressed he has been with Schaper.
“We all know Jayden is a great player, but he was unbelievable today, especially on the back nine. He’s a good, solid player and I just love his ball-flight, with a little cut. We’re definitely going to see his name up there in the future. When I first met him in 2014, playing in my golf day in Albertinia, he was still very young and one would never think he would turn out so good,” Oosthuizen said.