SA's Keenan Davidse in front at Joburg Open

Keenan Davidse during the day 1 of the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club on December 07, 2017 in Johannesburg.
Keenan Davidse during the day 1 of the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club on December 07, 2017 in Johannesburg.
Image: Petri Oeschger/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images

A day after the US PGA Tour announced they were investing in South African golf development with support for Soweto Country Club’s rebirth, Keenan Davidse made an equally positive statement for the local game.

The Cape golfer opened with an eight-under-par 63 on the par-71 Bushwillow course at Randpark Golf Club to lead a major tri-sanctioned tournament for the first time in his career.

Davidse is one stroke clear at the top of the leaderboard in this Sunshine Tour, European Tour and Asian Tour sanctioned event.

And he’s pretty comfortable there as well at the end of a year in which he’s showed signs of this kind of performance with finishes of tied fifth in the Zambia Sugar Open; 10th in the Sun Wild Coast Sun Challenge; and tied second, fourth and tied fourth in the Vodacom Origins of Golf tournaments at Arabella Country Estate, Zimbali and Simola.

“I’ve worked very hard. It’s always nice leading a big tournament, and especially the Joburg Open. It’s a good feeling,” said Davidse, who represents the collective hopes of a group of players known as the Gary Player Class of 2017/18.

This is the Sunshine Tour’s main development squad for historically disadvantaged professional golfers.

It is the professional arm of a development structure that benefits from the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) and the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation (EEFF) as part of the collective golf development drive in this country.

But Davidse might argue that he is simply a South African golfer who has been given an opportunity to show the talent he has. And he feels the same about his fellow Gary Player Class professionals.

“All of the golfers in the Gary Player Class can play. I think most of them are very underrated to be honest. It’s really just a case of whether they are given the opportunities to play or not. If the opportunity isn’t there, then they cannot show their true potential.

“We are such a special unit of players. The guys stand together and there is no jealousy amongst us,” Davidse said.

He’ll play the Firethorn course in Friday’s second round, which is perceived to be the tougher of the two courses that are used for the first two rounds of an event that has one of the biggest fields on tour.

One stroke behind him, Erik van Rooyen has made a positive start in his first full season as a European Tour professional after earning his card through the grueling Challenge Tour this year.

And Ockie Strydom is also just one stroke behind at the end of a year in which he is moving ever closer to a victory. He’s had eight top-10s on the Sunshine Tour this year, including five second-place finishes.

With Oliver Bekker and Dean Burmester at six under, and the in-form Dylan Frittelli at one under and searching for this third European Tour victory this year, the Joburg Open leaderboard definitely reflects a new breed of South African professionals coming to the fore.

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