AMERICAN Johannes Veerman fired the lowest round of his fledgling European Tour career to take the first round lead at the South African Open.
Veerman shot a brilliant bogey-free 62 over the Bushwillow Course at Randpark Golf Club to get to nine-under.
He leads the way by one from Italy’s Nino Bertasio and South African home favourite JC Ritchie who were also on the Bushwillow.
Branden Grace, one of the pre-tournament favourites posted seven-under to sit alongside two more South Africans – Toto Thimba Jnr and Rourke van der Spuy.
Chile’s Matias Calderon, and Manchester’s Sam Horsfield – who was championed by Ian Poulter as an amateur having been based in Florida since he was five – and Greek Peter Karmis.
Veerman’s joy in Johannesburg was a far cry from just 54 days ago when he sat five-over after two days at the Qualifying School – with little chance of having any playing privileges on the European Tour for 2020.
The 27-year-old then shot two rounds of 67 followed by a pair of 66s to secure a place on the European Tour – and has not looked back since.
Veerman’s first three starts produced two top 10s on the Race to Dubai.
His 62 on day one of the first event of the decade would have equalled Louis Oosthuizen’s course record – had preferred lies not been in place after heavy overnight rain.
Veerman, a Californian – who played on the Web.com in the first year after he graduated from Texas A&M College, in 2014 – was delighted after coming home in 29.
“It was a good round of golf today,” Veerman said. “The course was set up to go low out there.
“The wind didn’t blow hard, the rough isn’t long and the greens were receptive, so there was a good number out there.
“I kept hitting a lot of good shots on the front nine but I didn’t make as many putts as I did on the back nine.
“On the back nine I made two long ones of 40-plus feet. I hit 17 greens so that’s a lot of chances I had for birdie.
“I’ve been practising really hard over the last six or seven months and I’ve been getting better. To come out and start 2020 playing like this gives me a lot of confidence.
“It is only the first round – but it is a step in the correct direction.”
Veerman birdied the second and fifth but jumped into a share of the lead with a hat-trick of gains from the tenth.
He then burst clear of the field with four more birdies on the back nine including a lovely chip-and-run on the 17th, followed by an excellent approach to the last.
Bertasio birdied the first, third, fourth, sixth, eighth, 12th and 13th before an eagle from 10 feet on the 17th handed him a share of the lead.
But poor tee shot on the 18th then saw the Italian finish with a bogey.
Ritchie was bogey free in his opening round, picking up shots on the first, fifth, sixth, 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th and last.
Grace also came home in 31 to post the lowest round of the day on the Firethorn Course, which will host the final two rounds over the weekend.
The Rolex Series winner birdied the first, fourth, 12th and 14th. He then holed a bunker shot on the 15th and picked up two more birides on the 16th and 18th.
Van der Spuy holed out for an eagle at the 18th to make up five shots over the last four holes, while Calderon and Karmis were bogey-free in their rounds of 64.
Horsfield who played with Thimba had a roller-coaster ride shooting 10 birdies only dented by three dropped shots.
Defending champion Oosthuizen also went bogey-free as he carded six-under after playing with South Africa’s junior protege Jayden Trey Schaper, who played in the recent Junior Presidents Cup, at Royal Melbourne, and is still an amateur currently ranked at 85th in the world.
The South Africans played with 18-year-old AfrAsia Bank Mauritus Open champion Rasmus Højgaard, one of Europe’s exciting prospects alongside twin brother Nicolai, who played in the last Junior Ryder Cup.
•The 240 strong field will play the other course on Friday with the top 65 making the cut. For live scoring from Randpark click here.