By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Lizzie Currie made the biggest statement of her budding career when she dethroned Cara Gorlei in a thrilling final to be crowned KwaZulu-Natal ladies amateur matchplay champion at Durban Country Club (Beachwood) on Tuesday.
The KwaZulu-Natal Ladies Golf Association Amateur Championship stretched from Sunday to Tuesday and saw Port Shepstone’s Currie grow in stature in each passing day.
Starting with a runner-up performance in the strokeplay and finishing with her maiden championship-level triumph in the matchplay, it was a coming-of-age tournament for Currie.
The 20-year-old proved in Sunday’s 36-hole matchplay championship that she could go tit-for-tat with Gorlei – ultimately finishing two strokes behind the Western Cape number one in second place – before she upset the world number 93-ranked amateur 2 & 1 in Tuesday’s matchplay final to seal an improbable watershed win.
“I’m super excited about my win…I still can’t believe I actually won,” an ecstatic Currie told eHowzit.
“It’s such an amazing feeling, especially because it’s my first win in the championship division. It’s a great accomplishment for me, without a doubt the highlight of my career so far and by far my most rewarding win given that it was over such a top Springbok player in Cara.”
Her victory came as a surprise not because her talent was questioned but rather due to Gorlei’s laundry list of credentials, which include multiple South African ladies amateur open and junior titles.
Add in the fact that matchplay, by her own admission, is not her strong suit, and the surprise factor and magnitude of her victory is put in perspective.
“Matchplay is not my strongest format,” she admitted, adding, “I even said to our manager Jean Freeman I’d rather play a round of medal than matchplay, but as the tournament went on it [matchplay] started growing on me.
“I just took everything shot for shot; it’s matchplay, so even if you do make a mistake, you only lose one hole.”
Currie’s championship got off to the worst possible start when she double-bogeyed the first hole of the strokeplay tournament and dropped another shot on the second.
“I was thinking to myself ‘well this is just great, Lizzie, three over par after two holes, and you play off a four handicap,’” she laughed.
“Then I reminded myself of what my older brother said to me, to just have fun, so I got over myself very quickly.”
A more composed Currie went on to sink back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth and stayed level par for the remainder of the front nine.
Two more birdies on the back nine saw her sign for a one-under-par 72.
“I was surprised and stoked at that stage because I’ve never played such a good round in an amateur tournament before and I’d been struggling to break 80 for the past two months.”
A four-over 77 final round placed her second behind Gorlei, who claimed her third title of the year, and earned Currie the best nett.
“I was very happy with my performance, especially because I was able to sort of keep it together.”
She would go on to get her just rewards and a measure of revenge over Gorlei, who was eyeing a hat-trick of KwaZulu-Natal ladies amateur matchplay titles, but the road to the final was a tricky one.
It started with a stroll on Day Two as Currie was a given a bye in the opening round before she won her second-round encounter 3 & 2 over Gauteng golfer Kajal Mistry.
The intensity was ramped up on Day Three, which got underway with a semi-final showdown against Pietermaritzburg’s Piper Payne.
Currie found herself two down before the turn but managed to bring it back and prevail 2 & 1 to set up an exciting final against Gorlei, who had ousted Brittany-Fay Berger in the other semi-final match-up.
“The match against Cara was quite a challenge because I knew she was a one-handicap Springbok player and that I was clearly the underdog.”
Currie started slow and was two down after three and looking at a potentially long and disappointing decider, but a rare Gorlei error on the fourth was the opening the Port Shepstone golfer needed, and she took full advantage of it.
“I just laughed after the first three holes…it almost felt as if I didn’t have a chance. Her mistake on the next hole was the moment I realised that I still had a chance and she could be beaten despite her high ranking.”
The duo turned with Currie one down before she went on a match-turning tear that she described as “the best golf I’ve played to date.”
Gorlei missed her putt on the 12th, bringing things back to all-square, with Currie chipping in for birdie on the 13th to turn the tables on her much-vaunted opponent.
She birdied the 14th after her drive had landed roughly 20 metres off the green, and went two-up when she birdied the 15th.
The finalists had taken contrasting approaches to the par-five 15th, Gorlei going the aggressive route and Currie sticking to her game, with the latter’s calculated approach paying off.
The roles were reversed on the 16th as Currie went for the kill. Her aggression backfired as she landed in a fairway bunker, and Gorlei capitalised to close the gap to one down with two to play.
Sensing an opportunity, Gorlei pushed the envelope on the 17th, her aggressive shot landing on the front edge of the green.
Currie opted to lay-up and produced the shot of the final when she stuck her 70-metre approach less than a putter’s length from the pin.
Gorlei was unable to get her long putt close enough and failed to sink her birdie putt. Currie replied by boxing hers out to clinch the biggest win of her career.
“It was such an amazing feeling…I was shocked. The last eight holes were just a blur and I soon found out that I went four-under through eight.”
Gorlei was classy in defeat, saying, “Lizzie brought everything to the final and it was a real battle of wits and determination.”
Currie credits her time on the Sunshine Ladies Tour (SLT) in the lead-up to the championship for her title triumph.
She played in three tour events – at Lost City, Glendower and in the Tshwane Ladies Open at Pretoria Country Club – and made the cut in two of those competitions.
She said the experience she gained at the SLT level lifted her game to new heights.
“Playing those Sunshine Ladies Tour events helped me tremendously.
“I learned how to keep my cool, to be patient and take my time, to think about my shot but not overthink things, to never give up and to move on immediately if the result wasn’t what I wanted.
“It helped me a great deal mentally, especially with dealing with the hype and surroundings of people watching and cameramen. You have to learn not to pay attention to those factors.
“Playing in the KZN matchplay champs, I noticed more and more people coming to watch and it did rattle me, but I quickly gathered myself and just blocked them out and it was just me and the course.
“I knew if I wanted to beat Cara, I would have to win with birdies or pars, so I just focused on playing my own game and getting those results, which is another them I learned whilst playing on the Sunshine Ladies Tour, not to worry much about what the other players are doing.
“Even with it being matchplay and playing against a specific player, I found it easier to stick to my gameplan.”
Having broken new ground, Currie has set her sights on cracking the top 20 on the national ladies amateur rankings whilst studying to obtain a diploma for Entrepreneurship.