Lagergren dodges bogeys at Blair Atholl for first-round SA Open lead
Swedish golfer Joakim Lagergren fired a seven-under-par 65 on the monstrous Blair Atholl on Thursday afternoon for a one-shot advantage at the co-sanctioned Investec South African Open Championship.
Casey Jarvis was lying second with three others — former winner Andy Sullivan of England, and locals Louis de Jager and Jovan Rebula — tied on 67.
More than 30 players were log-jammed from 68 to 70, among them defending champion Thriston Lawrence and newly crowned Joburg Open champion Dean Burmester, who were both two under par.
Lagergren was one of only two players to go around the layout that measured 7,527m for the first round — its maximum length of 8,161m makes it the longest in DP World Tour history — without carding a bogey in the first round.
“A lot of fun today, yeah, really enjoyed it. I’ve really been finding my putting this week,” said Lagergren, whose only victory on tour came in 2018.
But it was long getting to the greens. “It’s very rare that you find a wedge in your hand into a par-four so it is long.”
Jarvis pointed out that one needed long irons to reach some par-four greens — the 16th measured 512m — and controlling the ball was critical.
“It’s a long, long course and I tried to step on a few drives out there,” said Jarvis, who teed off in cool morning conditions and birdied two par-threes and all five of the par-fives, which range from 519m to 594m.
“I don’t hit the ball as far as some of the other guys out here, it’s a bit long, a long walk so I think it is a bit mentally challenging for me and I’ve just got to stay patient.”
Patience was a skill he developed on the Challenge Tour this past year, where he landed his first professional win and ended second overall.
“Patience was probably the most key thing out there last season. You have to stay patient, the courses are so different to back here in South Africa, so you’ve really got to learn to manage your game and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
But he’s had to readapt to the local courses.
“I hadn’t played here for six months so it was a little bit tough, even though I grew up here, with the grass, especially with the chipping.
“I feel like the grass over there is so tight and here is so thick so I’ve been striking it a bit on the top of my club face. So that took a bit of adjusting, but I’m getting the hang of it now.”
Of the 18 holes, 11 were returned an average score of over par by the 156-strong field.
Sullivan, who won the SA Open crown at Glendower in 2015, said his control of the mid and long irons had helped.
“I’m not one of the longest hitters on tour, so that start was a little bit unexpected.
“But my long game was good last week and if anything and I was actually quite looking forward to this week, knowing how long it was going to be,” added Sullivan, who broke 80 at the Belfry playing with only a five iron.
Asked what single club he’d choose for Blair Atholl, he replied with a chuckle: “Driver, probably.”
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