Fin Pulkkanen streaks to Joburg Open lead

08 December 2017 - 17:43 By Michael Vlismas
Tapio Pulkkanen during day 2 of the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club on December 08, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Tapio Pulkkanen during day 2 of the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club on December 08, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Petri Oeschger/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images

Wearing his blue Stetson hat‚ Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen is more than ready for a shootout on the weekend of the Joburg Open with South African Erik van Rooyen‚ who he’s already dueled with in a number of tournaments this year.

On a day of low scoring on Friday‚ Pulkannen took the lead on 14-under with a bogey-free 64 that started with six consecutive birdies on Randpark’s Firethorn course.

One stroke behind him is India’s Shubankar Sharma‚ who signed for a bogey-free 10-under-par 61 on the par-71 Bushwillow course.

Then on 12-under lies Van Rooyen‚ who also had a fast start to his second round as he opened with four straight birdies on the Firethorn course on his way to a round of 67.

And it’s Van Rooyen who the Finnish leader will be keeping a very close eye on as the two of them come off a year in which they’ve had some great battles on the Challenge Tour.

When Pulkkanen won the Kazakhstan Open‚ Van Rooyen finished fourth. And when Van Rooyen won the Hainan Open‚ Pulkkanen finished second.

Pulkkanen eventually finished first on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman final rankings‚ and Van Rooyen finished third to see them both secure their cards for the European Tour this season.

“We had some good battles on the Challenge Tour. He’s a fun guy‚” said Pulkkanen‚ who has been wearing his trademark hats since the age of 16 when he spotted the golf captain at his local club doing so.

“I really liked the old school style of them. It doesn’t look like a traditional Stetson‚ but it’s actually called a Stetson hat. I normally wear a straw version‚ so this is the first blue one for me. I think it’s my lucky charm now.”

Van Rooyen has certainly prepared himself for this weekend and the challenge that lies ahead.

After a grueling season on the Challenge Tour and a tournament in Hong Kong recently‚ he decided to take last week off and not be tempted to travel to the island paradise of Mauritius for the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.

“It was about a bit of rest and a bit of preparation for this week. It’s been a long season and I decided to prepare for this. The Joburg Open is an event we all want to play well in‚ and I’m off to a good start‚” Van Rooyen said.

Since winning the Eye of Africa PGA Championship on the Sunshine Tour in February‚ Van Rooyen put everything into earning his European Tour card. He even employed the services of celebrated vision specialist Sherylle Calder to improve his putting.

It’s all been aimed at getting to this point‚ namely challenging for a European Tour victory (the tournament is tri-sanctioned by the European Tour‚ Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour) and also securing himself a place in the Open Championship at Carnoustie next year.

The top three golfers within the top 10 at the end of the Joburg Open who are not already exempt for this Major will earn a spot therein.

“That’s definitely something to play for. That played into my reasoning for skipping last week and getting ready for this tournament‚” Van Rooyen said.