If breadth of smile were a measure of potential success in a golf tournament, JC Ritchie would be the runaway favourite for the Zambia Sugar Open which gets underway on Thursday at Lusaka Golf Club. Source: Sunshine Tour
The 23-year-old broke through in last week’s 2017 Zimbabwe Open, claiming his maiden Sunshine Tour victory with a play-off triumph over Trevor Fisher Jnr, and that win has made the world of difference to his approach.
“For a long time, I’ve hit the ball well and played really nicely,” he said. “I’ve featured in many tournaments and just not been able to finish it off during the last couple of rounds. Last week was just absolutely amazing. I just kept playing better throughout the week. So I definitely feel like I belong at the top of the leaderboard when I play now.”
It was his ability to overcome early adversity which eventually led to his victory. He started with a quintuple-bogey nine on his first hole, and he was seven over par after his first seven holes. But he made 29 birdies and an eagle on his way to a recovery which was little short of miraculous.
“It was an interesting start last week,” he said. “I felt really confident before the week. Then those first seven holes were an absolute shock to my system. After that, I hit the ball exactly how I felt before the week for the last 65 holes. That shock helped me relax quite a lot, so I’m very relaxed coming into this week. So whatever happens this week, I’ll take it on the chin.”
It helps that he’s playing on a course he enjoys and in an environment on which he thrives. “I really like the course,” he said. “It suits the way I’m hitting the ball and I’m looking forward to the week. I’m looking forward to the greens. They’ll be interesting. They’re a lot better than I’ve ever seen them in the four years I’ve been coming here.
“I’ve always enjoyed it over here. In my first year, I met the people I’m staying with. They’re an absolute joy. They’ve hosted us every year, so it’s like home when I come up here.”
He’ll be up against two former champions in the field, in the absence of defending champion Cristoffer Blomstrand of Sweden. Lyle Rowe and Vaughn Groenewald won in 2014 and 2015 respectively. There are also the likes of Jaco Ahlers and Oliver Bekker, who were in fine form last week in Zimbabwe.
But Ritchie is riding a wave of euphoria and that might free him up to play uninhibited golf. “My confidence is definitely right up there,” he said. “I played nicely in the pro-am. I shot six-under-par, so I’m hitting it nicely and putting it well on the greens. My confidence is definitely right up there.”
If he doesn’t have a bad start like he had last week, he might just be difficult to haul in.