Nienaber hits monster 401m drive

Wilco Nienaber turned professional last year after a 21-title amateur career. BackpagePix/A. Carrasco Ragel

JOHANNESBURG - Wilco Nienaber slammed a tee shot 401.5 metres en route to a 63 and a share of the Joburg Open first-round lead with fellow South African Shaun Norris. 

The 20-year-old, who turned professional last year after a 21-title amateur career, was aided by playing at an altitude of 1,753 metres in Johannesburg as the ball travels further.

But the remarkable length of his drive at the par-five fourth in Randpark Golf Club compares favourably with American big-hitter Bryson DeChambeau, who has been averaging 325 yards, often at sea level, on the PGA circuit.

Nienaber had an eagle, nine birdies and three bogeys on his card as the three-tournament South African swing of the European Tour/Sunshine Tour began.

He has made an impressive start as a professional, claiming two top-10 finishes in 10 starts before the Joburg Open, including finishing fourth in the English Championship.

Nienaber underplayed his monster drive on a hot day in suburban Johannesburg, saying "I guess it was a decent drive. Eight under is nice round any golf course."

SuperSport TV commentator and former professional Tony Johnstone was more lavish in his praise after the tee shot that landed just off the fairway and set up Nienaber for a birdie four. 

"Wilco is a massive talent and to hit a golf ball that far -- 439 yards -- is absolutely mind-numbing," he said.

"Three hundred yards is a big drive, 400 yards astounding. But 439 yards is, well, freakish."

Nienaber could have returned an even lower score as he narrowly missed birdie putts on the fifth and sixth holes.

Norris, who has won eight times on the Japanese, Asian and Sunshine circuits, began his round at the 10th and turned three-under thanks to an eagle and a birdie. 

He gathered momentum with three consecutive birdies from the third and picked up two more in a bogey-free round.

Nienaber and Norris are one shot ahead of Canadian Aaron Cockerill and American Johannes Veerman, who carded 64s. 

Indian Shubhankar Sharma, winner of the last Joburg Open in 2017, trails the leaders by 13 strokes after a five-over 76 that included a nine on the par-five 12th.

Source
AFP