It took four playoff holes to get the job done, but JJ Senekal finally won his second Sunshine Tour title on Sunday when he chipped in for eagle to defeat Jaco Ahlers and take the Zanaco Masters at Lusaka Golf Club.
Senekal and Ahlers had finished regulation play in 14-under-par 274, together with Andre de Decker and Alex Haindl. The first trip back over the 18th – the designated playoff hole – saw De Decker and Haindl fall by the wayside, but Ahlers clung on grimly.
Senekal’s approach on that final trip up 18 was wayward and hit a spectator to go into the greenside bunker. And then he got mobbed after he chipped in.
“First my caddie hugged me, and then the rest of the crowd hugged me,” he laughed.
“I lost my cap and a pair of glasses, but it was a special moment.
It was the end to a draining hour.
“It was way too long for me,” said Senekal.
“I told Jaco coming up 18 for the third time that I was not built for this. It was long, it was draining, it was a long week. We played together for the third and fourth rounds. It was a good battle for a couple of days.”
The victory gave him his biggest pay cheque on the Sunshine Tour, and his second title, like his first back in 2013 in the Origins of Golf Final at St Francis Links, also came in a playoff where he bested Titch Moore.
Senekal opened the tournament with a one-over-par 73, which seemed to put him out of contention early on. His second round of 63 catapulted him back into the fray, and, after a third-round 70, his closing 68 got him into the playoff.
He made two birdies early on to turn in two-under 33 in the final round, but then a bogey on 13 – which had been changed from its normal par of five to four for the week – seemed to indicate that he was slipping up.
“The final round was tough,” he said.
“I got off to a good start to be two-under through nine. I didn’t hit a good tee shot on 10, but I got lucky with the lie and made par. And then I made a stupid bogey on 13 when I went for the green and I probably shouldn’t have. It was only a wedge, but I went for the green when I shouldn’t have, and I hit it in the water.”
Senekal responded in the best way possible, with a birdie on 14, and then two more – one on 15, and the other on 18 which got him into the playoff as Haindl, who looked for all the world to have the victory sewn up going down the stretch, let it slip with an error on 16.
“I feel for Alex, because he made double on 16 which brought us all back into the game. One slip-up can cost you a tournament and we all know that,” said Senekal.
For Senekal, the victory was just reward for a year of hard work last season in which he finished 27th on the Order of Merit – his best-ever performance – without being able to win.
“I really tried to win last year,” he said. “I had a couple of top-10 finishes and it was frustrating not to win, but I can tick that box this season now, I guess. This sets me up for a good season.”