A season to remember

Pittsford, N.Y. —
Not many people would find the energy to have a positive attitude after going through what Matt van Niekerk did on the golf course earlier this month. When van Niekerk walked off the Robert Trent Jones Course at Cornell he was prepared to accept his trophy as the NYSPHSAA champion.
Then he received some devastating news: fellow sophomore and Pittsford Mendon standout Gavin Hall was one shot better. The Allendale Columbia junior isn’t like most people though. Don’t expect this moment to ruin van Niekerk’s career. The disappointment is going to be his motivation going forward.“It was a very good experience,” said van Niekerk, who finished fourth at the Federation Tournament last weekend at Bethpage Black.“You always seem to learn a lot more when you lose than from when you win. I think after being hurt and seeing what you should have done, the experience is going to help me do a lot more in the future.”The fact that van Niekerk was even competing in the state tournament may surprise those who follow local high school golf. Unlike his counterparts in the Monroe County who tee it up in the spring van Niekerk’s season is in the fall.

He spent the winter training indoors but the wet spring left him with only few practice rounds before the Section 5 tournament in May.

van Niekerk’s rust didn’t show as he shot a 78 to win the Section 5 Class C tournament at at the Country Club of Mendon. Two days later in the Supersectional van Niekerk fired another 78, this one at Oak Hill, to qualify for states.“He’s got a great attitude and he’s very level-headed on the course,” said Steve Tobey, H-AC head coach. “He’s just a dream kid.”

van Niekerk was the top player for the Wolves this fall, but he wasn’t pleased with his performance during the season. van Niekerk credits an excellent offseason in helping him improve his scores this spring.

Working with the staff at Play Better Golf van Niekerk used the K-Vest, which helps improve a player’s movement during his swing. The result was a more consistent swing on every shot.

“He has gotten more consistent every year he has been here,” Tobey said. “He is strong in all facets of the game.”

van Niekerk was born in Johannesburg, South Africa but his family moved to the United States in 2006. The country’s violence and civil unrest led them to move to America.

The family chose Rochester because they had relatives who were already settled in the area.

Growing up in South Africa van Niekerk was exposed to a wide variety of sports including rugby, cricket, and soccer. When van Niekerk turned 10 he focused his attention towards competitive golf. van Niekerk remains loyal to his home country, rooting for Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

“The first year here was difficult, because I left so many close friends,” van Niekerk said. “After I came to Allendale Columbia it made my life a lot easier. The move was tough, but it made me a better person.”

After his strong showing this spring he is hoping to qualify for several national events in the summer including the Junior PGA Championship and Porter Cup. van Niekerk is thinking about his golf career down the road.

“I just want to keep the momentum going,” van Niekerk said. “I would love to get a Division I scholarship, and maybe go after a spot on the tour. I am just going to keep working hard.”

[Article published by BrightonPittsfordPost.com]