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8th March 2023 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

German precision nets Noja course-record at Investec SA Women’s Open

It was a display of precision golf from Germany’s Chiara Noja on Wednesday as she soared to a course-record 10-under-par 62 to take a two-stroke lead in the first round of the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship at Steenberg Golf Club.

The lanky 16-year-old Noja, who finished 12th in a stellar field in the LPGA’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International just a few weeks back, hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation as she made an eagle, nine birdies and a bogey to relegate Ashleigh Buhai’s opening eight-under-par 68 to second place.

“It was just very consistent golf in general,” said Noja. “I didn’t feel like I was swinging it incredibly well, so I was just trying to put myself in good positions for birdies. My putting’s good, definitely. To hole some of those putts was really good. My wedges were on point, and that’s what I’ll be trying to do going into the next few days. Depending on the wind, we’re going to see exactly how much I need to go under.”

While her wedge play was outstanding, there was plenty more to catch the eye about her game.

Any good score depends on making putts, and she had 27 putts in her 18 holes, including just 12 on the front nine. But her driving also caught the eye, and on the par-five fifth, she boomed it out there to 292 yards.

It was those shots into the greens that were attention-grabbing, and that was no fluke.

“Over the last two years, I’ve spent a lot of time working on my wedges,” she said. “I used to really struggle with that. I didn’t really get to practice it much. Over the winter, I’ve done a lot of wedge work and a lot of the shots I have learnt to hit, I didn’t have in the bag at the start of the season. There’s been growth in that sense, and also trusting myself a little better. I’m just trying to commit to everything.”

After Buhai’s morning heroics, Noja’s score was the only significant shake-up on the leaderboard from the afternoon field in the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Lades Tour and the Ladies European Tour.

On six-under, and in a share of third, were Johanna Gustavsson of Sweden, France’s Nastasia Nadaud and Romy Meekers of the Netherlands.

Joburg Ladies Open winner and reigning Investec Order of Merit leader Lily May Humphreys from England was back in the mix with a flawless five-under-par 67 to sit in sixth, and six players were in a share of seventh on four-under, including the next-best South African after Buhai, Nadia van der Westhuizen.

Defending champion Lee-Anne Pace opened with a two-under-par 70.

The story of the day, however, was Noja’s. “Obviously, I’ve had school, so I’ve not been running around crazy, but the work I have done in between lots of studying has mainly about trying to be healthy and try to make things repeatable,” she said. “I’ve also been working on getting shots into my bag for those in between distances that I didn’t have last year, and that’s really helped me for the last three months.” With uncertainty in the air about the weather over the next few days, Noja was reluctant to say how she might approach the rest of the tournament. “I’m going to show up, make the best of everything, of every shot, and whatever comes out comes out,” she said.