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26th April 2018 | Big Easy Tour

Bothma seals memorable comeback at Kyalami

Veteran Michiel Bothma dismissed the theory that nice guys don’t win when he stormed to a three shot victory in the IGT Challenge #3 at Kyalami Country Club on Wednesday.

In a professional career spanning 25 years, the soft-spoken, amicable ‘Mr Nice’ showed time and time again that he was made of sterner stuff with four titles on the Sunshine Tour, including two Telkom PGA Championships, and a Challenge Tour win.

But Bothma was forced to give up the game two years ago when circulation problems in his legs severely affected his balance.

After social game late last year, a friend convinced Bothma he was ready to make his return. With the European Senior Tour beckoning, the 45-year-old began competing on the country’s premier golf development circuit.

If there was any doubt about his desire and determination to return, silenced his critics with a driven performance at Kyalami.

Six off the pace after a first round one-under-par 71, Bothma fired a 67 in the second round to start the final 18 one off the pace. It took him just four holes to catch leader DK Kim from South Korea. He produced a pair of eagles, a trio of birdies and lone bogey en route to a seven-under-par 65 that sealed his three shot triumph on three-under-par 203.

It was an emotional return to the winner’s circle for Bothma, whose last victory was the Barclays Kenya Open on the European Challenge Tour in 2011.

“I knew coming back that it would be a process of steps,” he said. “When I turned pro, I started out on the Diners Club Tour. Then I headed to America to play the mini-tours and then to Europe. After making a bunch of top five finishes on the EuroPro Tour, I came home and played the Sunshine Tour.

“Those who think you win right out of the blocks are clueless. That’s the exception to the rule. For most of us, it’s a long, hard grind and you have to do it in steps. Coming back, I started at the bottom. But this time around, I can do it on home soil. I don’t have to fork out thousands of Rands to compete abroad. We have a strong development Tour here.

“Three weeks ago I finished 16th, then 12th and then seventh last week in the first Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour event. I knew a win was coming closer, but I expected a top three this week. You can’t begin to imagine how happy I am right now.”

Bothma said the eagle at the par five fourth was the kicker that took him to the winner’s circle.

“I hit a solid drive down the middle and I had 211 metres to the pin,” he said. “I took 4-iron but I didn’t hit it pure and I worried it would be short. It pitched 25 metres pin high left and I hit the putt perfectly. When it dropped, I knew I could win.”

Kim made birdie and the duo headed to the sixth tied for the lead on eight-under. They both birdied the ninth and split the next three holes in pars.

“At the next par five (13), I had 209 metres to the pin,” said Bothma. “It looked like it landed close and DK’s second looked even closer. Turned out he had a five-footer and I had a 15-footer for eagle. I knew I needed to make that putt, because he is like bull terrier; he just doesn’t go away. I got the perfect stroke on the ball and it held the line, turning slightly at the end. His putt didn’t hold the line and he ended up making birdie.”

After Bothma stretched his lead to two with a birdie at 14, both players birdied the par four 15th but gave the shots back at the next hole.

“I wanted to draw the ball to finish short of the water, but I hit it a little hard,” said Bothma. “Luckily I got a soft bounce and it finished four feet short. DK’s second went in the bunker and I knew it would be a tough up-and-down, so I hit my second short and made the chip and putt from 25 feet for the birdie and the win.

“I am off the first step and on to the second and I swear I am hitting the ball better than I ever did in my career. Once you taste that winning feeling, you just want it to go on and on. I’d like to win two or three more IGT’s and a couple on the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour. Then I’ll be ready to return to the Sunshine Tour. Right now, I’m just letting this positive feeling sink in.”

Kim closed with a 69 to finish alone in second on 206, four shots clear of rookie Cameron Moralee who returned a final round 71. A trio of 71s saw Sunshine Ladies Tour campaigner Ivanna Samu, first round leader Tristen Strydom and Ruan Korb tie for fourth on five-under 211.