After successfully traversing the rigours of Qualifying School last week to retain his playing privileges for the 2013 season, a refreshed Matthew Southgate is delighted to be back on The European Tour and put himself in contention at the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa after starting with a three under par 62.
Southgate, who finished tied seventh at PGA Catalunya Resort in northern Spain to retain his card after ending 2012 239th in The 2012 Race to Dubai, came flying out of the blocks with a birdie at the par five first at Royal Durban Golf Club and made further gains on the much-modified back nine at the short 11th and 13th holes and at the par four 17th.
The Southend man’s only drop of the day came at the long, closing par four 18th as he failed to get up-and-down from in front of the green, but he was wholly satisfied with his work on Saturday and said the weather-enforced rest had done him some good.
He said: “It was good today, I’m just glad to be out playing to be honest. I’ve had a really busy schedule the last few weeks and in a way I think it’s helped me a lot that we’ve had this rain delay – it’s given me a really good opportunity to work on my game and relax a bit after Tour school and all the travelling.
“So I’m chuffed I played as well as I did today and although it’s a bit of a bitter finish with bogey at the last but I threatened to make a few more on the way round which I managed to save so I can’t be disappointed.
“It takes a bit of concentration to get your head around what’s coming next – with all the par threes in the middle – and you’ve got to keep plodding along, but it’s not too bad if you can get focussed and just concentrate on the shot in front of you then it’s the same as playing a normal round of golf.”
Having also qualified for The European Tour at the 2011 Qualifying School Final Stage, Southgate is becoming something of a Q-School specialist and identifies his ability to handle the stresses of the marathon six-round contest as key to his success.
“It’s pretty intense but I feel I’ve been quite well trained coming through the English Golf Union and playing for the county side etc.,” he reflected. “I’ve always played under pressure and I really enjoy it, I thrive on it.
“When I feel nervous or tense it just enhances my concentration so Tour school is great for me because it’s six rounds and you know the guys that hang in the longest are the guys who are going to get their cards – you see it every year. Plus I love the courses there which helps.”
The 24 year old, who only got into the Final Stage of Tour School as a reserve, said that it has been quite the turnaround in emotions in the last few weeks but is now nothing short of delighted to be back in the upper echelons of European golf.
He said: “It’s brilliant to be here; a couple of weeks ago I thought my career could be coming to an end and then I got into Tour school and played great and obviously playing well again this week too. So if we can get the 36 holes in, get stuck in for another 18 holes tomorrow, it’d be great to get off to a good start for the season.
“I had my card last year and Challenge Tour the year before and I’ve never got off to a good start – even as an amateur – my seasons have always started slow so if we can have a big day tomorrow it would be great to kick the season off in a bit of style.”
Another man well versed in handling the unique pressures of Qualifying School is Southgate’s compatriot, John Parry, who swept to a four shot victory at the Final Stage in Girona just over a week ago.
The Harrogate man opened up with a one under par 64 in his first round back on The European Tour in Durban and said that despite the revised low par the test at Royal Durban is far from easy.
“It was a solid start but it could have been a good one or two shots better,” said the 26 year old, who was bogey-free until two consecutive drops on the sixth and seventh holes – his 15th and 16th.
“Although you look at the yardage and look at the par and think there’s bound to be loads of rounds in the 50s it really still is very tough.
“All those par threes – you are coming in with six or seven iron a lot and that is difficult to consistently be making your pars on.
He joked: “I’ll just be telling people I shot 64 and leaving out the part about that only being one under par!”
The inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship, the first event of The 2013 Race to Dubai, has been shortened to a 36 hole contest after an unseasonably large amount of rain forced a two-day postponement of the first round in Durban.