World number three Ernie Els goes into today’s second round of the Dunhill Championship well placed to start the defence of his European Order of Merit title but may well find his biggest challenge is trying to tame one of his own pupils.
While Els may be the biggest and only drawcard of the tournament this week, unknown rookie James Kamte lies one shot behind the second-placed Big Easy on four under and will be looking to show his teacher a thing or two over the next few rounds.
Kamte is one of the select talents drawn by Els’ own foundation which bears his name, and the young 22-year old has shown the value of a programme Els initiated to nurture talent among the black population in South Africa.
The programme is one that Els feels very passionate about, and while Kamte may have finished a lowly 138th on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit last season, he has exploded on the winter tour in the last six months with eight top-10 finishes and is now eyeing his first victory as a professional.
Kamte believes the Big Easy’s keen eye for talent, as well as a passion for keeping in touch with him, may well be the push he needs on the big stage of the European Tour.
“I spoke to Ernie yesterday in the practice round. He asked me when I was playing today and I said 6.45am and he said he was off at the same time, so I thought I was going to have a good game with him. Unfortunately he was on the other tee,” Kamte said.
“Ernie has been watching from afar. When we spoke yesterday I was pretty surprised when he said I’d been playing well this year. So obviously he’s interested, still looking and I am very happy for what Ernie did for me and the other guys. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
Els was a lot more modest about his input in Kamte’s game, and simply wished the young talent well.
“He’s got a lot of talent and has come a long way, so I hope he really does well in this tournament,” Els said after hearing of Kamte’s round.
The Big Easy wasn’t leaving too much to chance and while it seemed as if he relaxed on the back nine, he still managed to turn in a bogey-free round as an early warning to his competitors this week.
“The greens are so good, if you get it on the right side, you can make the putts. I’m still happy with the start I got,” he said.
“This start really helps me a lot and I want to do well here. The tournament is a prestigious event and I’d like to play well here. Last week I started finding my rhythm over the weekend. My swing was a bit jerky but it’s feeling good now.”
Zimbabwean rookie Bruce McDonald, who is playing in his first tournament, leads the field after a six-under 66, but did not quite know why he was invited in the first place.
“I’m not sure exactly how I got an invite. I’m a good friend with Nick Price and he may have had a word to (Sunshine Tour Commissioner) Johan Immelmann. I don’t know exactly how it worked but I sent my resume in and got an email from Johan the other day. I was elated when I found out.”
Also in the running on four under is English journeyman Neil Cheetham, who was cautious after fighting his way back onto the tour through Tour School after losing his card in 2001, saying he was looking forward to simply having a good week where he enjoyed his golf.
“There is a joke in my family that the fastest thing off a European Tour leaderboard is my name,” Cheetham said.
“So all I want to do is take it day by day, and have an enjoyable week.”