Young South African professional Wilco Nienaber couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship than playing alongside world number 16 Tommy Fleetwood in Thursday’s first-round at Carnoustie.
Nienaber opened with a round of three-over-par 75 on his debut in this prestigious pro-am tournament on the European Tour, and in what is his first season as a professional.
And he said it was an education in itself to watch his playing partner Fleetwood play his way to a 66 on the fearsome Carnoustie course, where the Englishman also holds the course record of 63 which he shot in this tournament in 2017.
“Today was pretty good playing with Tommy. It was my first time playing with a player ranked as high as he is in the world. He’s pretty good around this course, and it was good to see him making 66. It was pretty much flawless golf from him, and it was impressive to see the way he goes about the round and how he plots his way around the course,” said Nienaber.
The former top-ranked South African amateur is still in the very early stages of his own professional career, but says each week is a learning experience for him.
“I’m learning a lot, and learning more every time I play. The opportunities we are given as amateurs through GolfRSA to play in the top tournaments really does prepare you very well for the move to a professional. But that first professional tournament you play is still very nerve-wracking. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is traveling and being away from home and the family.”
This week, Nienaber has also had the honour of being paired with tournament host Johann Rupert as his amateur partner in the team competition of the Championship.
“I feel pretty lucky to not only have been given an invitation to play in this tournament, but also to be Mr Rupert’s partner. Links golf is different, but I enjoy it. I’ve been in Europe for most of the year so I’m pretty much used to the weather here. And I’ve had success on links courses so I’m looking forward to the next few days.” – MICHAEL VLISMAS