Teenage South African Aldrich Potgieter built a seemingly insurmountable lead and then withstood a stirring comeback from Sam Bairstow to win the 127th Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in Lytham St. Annes, England.
In the 36-hole final over the Lancashire links, the 17-year-old held on for a 3-and-2 victory over the Englishman to become the youngest winner of the championship since Matteo Manassero triumphed in 2009 aged 16.
“It’s really amazing,” Potgieter 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.”
Potgieter surged ahead thanks to a bogey-free four-under-par 66 in the morning session to grab a seven-up lead. But Bairstow, 23, kept it interesting, clawing back to two down with four to play.
And here is the winning moment….
— The R&A (@RandA) June 18, 2022
Just a year ago, Laird Shepherd rallied from eight down at Nairn, but Potgieter never buckled under the mounting pressure and relied on his brilliant short game to seal the win on his first-ever visit to the UK.
For starters, Potgieter, ranked 140th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, earned a berth in The 150th Open at St. Andrews next month.
“I’m really excited,” he 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.”
The South African sensation also can expect a spot in the 2023 U.S. Open and, by tradition, an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament in April. The teenager will also be invited to play in an event on the DP World Tour.
Potgieter became only the third South African to triumph after Jovan Rebula at Royal Aberdeen in 2018 and Bobby Cole at Carnoustie in 1966.
From a 288-man starting field representing 42 countries, Bairstow, the highest-ranked Great Britain and Ireland player in the competition at 19th on WAGR, reached the finals and was bidding to become the first left-hander to win The Amateur in the modern era.
Bairstow’s bogey at the second hole gave Potgieter the early advantage and he doubled his lead after a birdie at the 3rd. As the Englishman struggled to settle, he made two further bogeys at the fourth and the sixth as Potgieter stretched his lead to 4-up.
After a nifty approach to the short ninth, the South African rolled in the putt to go 5-up. Potgieter looked in trouble on the par-5 11th after pulling his drive but he drilled a low approach and won another hole as Bairstow fluffed his chip. Given Potgieter plays at Pinnacle Point on the southern coast of South Africa, the breezy conditions didn’t bother the teen who is experienced in keeping it low in the wind.
Potgieter widened the lead to 7-up after Bairstow bogeyed the 12th but only his second birdie of the day at the 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 seven down at halfway.
“On this golf course, going bogey-free on the first 18 holes was incredible for me,” Potgieter said. “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.”
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 six down. The South African, a three-time winner at the 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, 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 him claw within three holes, as the South African continued to find sand. Bairstow claimed a third consecutive hole 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.
“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,” Bairstow said. “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.”