Qualifier James Kamte from South Africa and Welshman Kyron Sullivan share the first round lead in the Open de France ALSTOM with six under par 65s at Le Golf National.
Both players have strong Challenge Tour credentials, but are moving in elite company now in Paris, with €4,000,000 at stake as well as one of the most prestigious titles on continental Europe.
The two leaders lead the way from four players on 66, England’s Benn Barham and Graeme Storm and a pair of Swedes in Steven Jeppesen and Christian Nilsson.
However the most intriguing story to emerge from a day which saw former champion Colin Montgomerie return to form with a solid 68 was that of 25 year old Kamte, who emerged as a potential future star thanks to one of the great champions of the modern era, Ernie Els.
Kamte, who successfully negotiated a 36 hole qualifying competition to earn his place in the field, explained: “If I ever win one of these big events I will thank Ernie right there on the spot. He gave me the opportunities to play back home through his Foundation when no-one else would give me the opportunities. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”
The man from the Eastern Cape gave up a promising soccer career – he was known as ‘The Cobra’ due to his pace and reflexes in front of goal! – after being drawn into the Ernie Els Foundation, to help underprivileged kids.
Kamte added: “Ernie did everything for us. He was flying us around, paying our accommodation, giving us pocket money, paying our food, caddies, giving us golf clubs. We were absolutely spoiled. When the time came for me to leave the Foundation they had to drag me away because I knew it would be tough, so I decided to turn pro straight away.”
With the backing of some benefactors in South Africa, Kamte has been playing on the Challenge Tour in Europe and making a big name for himself on his native Sunshine Tour. However, this week has the potential to be the biggest and most important of his life – especially so since another black South African, Vincent Tshabalala, won the Open de France 31 years ago.
He added: “I know Vince pretty well and he reminded me that he had won this title. It would be great to have my name on the trophy too!”
Sullivan had led before on The European Tour and admitted: “I have played with James on the Challenge Tour and it’s good to see guys from that Tour doing well. It gives you the encouragement to kick on and believe you can lead an event like the Open de France.”