Van den Berg shares PGA leadComment on this story
Johannesburg - A few weeks ago Ulrich van den Berg was spraying champagne at his friend Trevor Fisher jnr following Fisher's biggest victory on the Sunshine Tour.
This week Van den Berg is hoping for an equally significant triumph of his own.
The Johannesburg professional battled through a back injury to open with a seven-under-par 65 and share the first-round lead in the Telkom Business PGA Championship at Country Club Johannesburg's Woodmead Course on Thursday.
Oliver Bekker partners him at the top of the leaderboard, while 2011 champion George Coetzee is just one shot back alongside the unheralded Shaun Smith, who admitted to feeling “shell-shocked” at making it into the second oldest professional tournament in South African golf.
Van den Berg stepped onto the first tee hoping just to be able to complete his round after straining his back the day before.
“It was the last shot on the ninth in practice yesterday 1/8Wednesday 3/8 and I hit a shot and felt something tweak right towards my coccyx. I could barely make it back to the clubhouse, so it was a frantic time with the physios to get fit, but they've done a great job. It was touch-and-go on the range, but it eased up through the round,” he said.
“The nice thing is that when you play like that, you aren't too concerned about what you're shooting. You just take care of each shot at a time and don't put any pressure on yourself during the round.
“I didn't know if I was going to get through the round, so I'm very chuffed with how it turned out.”
After a slow start of one birdie in his first eight holes, Van den Berg did the bulk of his scoring on the back nine.
“I spun around the turn and made a whole heap of putts and got busy with a bunch of birdies, which was nice. That cooled down the frustration a little bit, because it gets upsetting when you're hitting it close and they're not going in.”
Bekker had the opposite, starting fast with an outward nine of 30 and then cooling off on the second nine.
“It's frustrating, because it's happened to me a few times this year,” he said.
“I wanted to get to 10 under par, so I didn't get defensive and I continued attacking. I set myself a target, which I don't always do, because it comes down to how you feel on the day.
“I felt like I was swinging it really nicely and I believed that if I kept it going I would shoot a really low score.”