An Interview With: Dawie Van Der Walt

PETE KOWALSKI: 5 & 4 in the third round of the U.S. Amateur is pretty good beating to put on somebody. How did you do it?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Well, to start off, my putter has been pretty off and I just played great. I didn't miss a shot this afternoon, except for I didn't do good on the first hole. I think after that, I hit every green, almost every green in regulation, and just didn't make any mistakes. I hit it good.

PETE KOWALSKI: How does it feel to be a quarterfinalist? What's the emotion right now?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Well, it feels great, but it's not exactly where I want to be at the moment. I want to be playing on Sunday. Even if you lose tomorrow, no one is going to remember you, or almost no one. I mean, it feels good, but I know there's still a lot of work left.

PETE KOWALSKI: The international flavor of the U.S. Amateur is coming to the fore here with three Canadians, yourself, and an Italian. Can you put any words into why that might be?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: I'm actually very surprised about that. American golf is so strong, I've been playing against so many people that impressed me. I would have thought there would be more Americans, at least today and in the last eight.

Q. As a quarterfinalist, you are exempt in the next year's U.S. Amateur championship already.

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Going to have to prime me for that. Yeah, I'm 22 years old already, and I want to play pro golf. So, I mean, I don't know if I'm going to be an amateur next year playing in this again. That's why I'm giving it my best shot.

Q. Tell us a little bit about getting you from South Africa and your youth career to Lamar University.

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Well, growing up, I just played rugby, cricket, all the South African sports which you don't have in America. But I mean, I started playing golf with my dad and I decided in high school -- golf is very small in South Africa. It's not like high school golf here. I mean, people -- you don't even play against other schools in high schools. It was very lonely playing golf growing up in high school, because there's not good guys that you can compete against. You only see them on holidays. It was different, different than what the other kids did, but I decided to play golf. I knew what I could do in golf in the sense of where I can go, places I can go playing golf rather than playing rugby or cricket. I've always wanted to come to America and play golf here since I've been small, and that's exactly where I am right now.

Q. You may have just answered that question, but to piggyback that, what does the U.S. Amateur mean to a kid growing up in South Africa? Do they even know about the U.S. Amateur?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Oh, no. You tell them you're playing in the U.S. Amateur they are like, how do you do. Like we don't have a Golf Channel. If you don't play in rugby in South Africa, people don't know about you. You play here, top eight, and you get TV coverage. In South Africa, I've won the stroke-play, which is almost more important in the South African Amateur, and I got to the quarterfinals of the match play there, I don't think I even got to the TV. Things are just bigger here. You tell somebody you're playing the U.S. Amateur, they are like, "oh." They don't understand how big it is over here.

Q. You took up golf, but who was your inspiration in South Africa among some of the famous South African golfers? Have you followed or patterned your career and said, I want to be like ...

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Yeah, sure. Trevor Immelman played in the same province in South Africa. A province, it's not even like a state, it's much smaller. He plays for the same province, a course which is about 20 minutes away. I know Trevor Immelman's brother. I mean, so, I knew what he was doing. He played in the Masters, doing good. So I'll try and follow his lead. I mean, he came from very small place, and everything, so I'll try to follow his lead.

Q. You told me at lunchtime that getting far enough in the U.S. Amateur would be a good present for your mother's 50th birthday. Tell me a little bit about that.

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Oh, yeah, that will be a great story when my mom is turning 50 on Saturday, and I mean, unfortunately I'm going to miss that. My sister is in England, so she's all by herself. She's pretty lonely. It would mean a lot to her if I could win this -- actually she doesn't care how I do. She just loves me anyway.

Q. Before you came over here to go to school, how many trips did you make to come to the States before that?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Not a single one. I've been to England, played the British Amateur there. I've been to Malaysia, played some tournaments over there, but I've never been to the States. It's my first time. It's very hard for us to get into the United States, first of all. I almost couldn't get a Visa to come here. It's not like the Aussies just come here and play golf here. It's hard for to us get a Visa just to play golf over here. So I've never been here before.

Q. What's been the biggest impression you've had of the United States with the culture?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: What's the biggest impression? We drive on the other side of the road. Everything is bigger here. I mean, I like the way the Americans operate. I want to live here one day, definitely.

Yeah, this is the way golf tournaments should be run, the way this one is run. Nowhere else in the world they do it like they do it in America. This is exactly where I want to be.

Q. What do you think of this golf course?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: I think it's a great course. I want to see them play the U.S. Open here so I can compare my scores to theirs.

I mean, the golf course, it's reasonable, it's tough. The greens are getting firm, though. It's a perfect test of golf. You need to play every shot here and you need to shape it every way. You need to putt good. The greens are fast. This is a perfect golf course.

Q. How about just analyze your game for me, strength, what you need to work onto become a professional; what got you to this point, driving, putting?

DAWIE VAN DER WALT: Usually my ball-striking is pretty good. It hasn't been that solid the first two rounds of the match play, but I never used to be a very good putter. But I've been working hard on my putting and I feel it's coming around. I've made a couple of putts under pressure especially, that's what I like about it.

I made a putt this morning on 17 to stay 1-up to play 18 which was an awesome putt. On the very first hole I made a very good about 10-footer, left-to-right downhill. So I mean, I've been working on my putting, I think I feel that's what the strength of my game is and that's what I want. I don't really care about the ball-striking. It's always, I want to be a good putter.

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Championship Facts

U.S. Amateur Championship

PAR AND YARDAGE Merion Golf Club will play at 6,846 yards and par 34-3670. The Philadelphia Country Club course, which will be used for the first two days of stroke play, will play at 6,967 yards and par 35-35 70.

MERION GOLF CLUB Hugh Wilson designed the championship course at Merion Golf Club (East Course), which opened in 1912. William Flynn and Howard Toomey designed Philadelphia Country Club (Spring/Mill Course), which opened in 1927. Interesting, Wilson and Flynn were good friends, with Flynn being the first superintendent at Merion.

TICKETS AVAILABLE Tickets can be purchased by calling the U.S. Amateur office at (484) 708-1050. Daily tickets are $15 and $60 for a weekly pass. More extensive ticket options are also available. Children 17 and under are admitted free if accompanied by a paying adult.

COURSE SET-UP Merion Golf Club will be set for green speeds of approximately 11-feet 6 inches on the Stimpmeter. The primary rough will be grown to 4 inches, with a strip of intermediate rough cut to 1 inches in height. Bent grass covers both the fairways and greens.

NO PAST CHAMPIONS No past Amateur champion entered the 2005 championship. Each of the winners over the past 10 years, who would have been exempt, has turned professional, forfeiting their eligibility for the championship.

TELEVISION COVERAGE The U.S. Amateur will have 10 hours of live national coverage on The Golf Channel and NBC over the last five days of the championship.

The Golf Channel

First Round Matches Wed. (Aug. 24), 3-5 p.m. (EDT)
Third Round Matches Thurs. (Aug. 25), 4-6 p.m. (EDT)
Quarterfinal Matches Fri. (Aug. 26), 3-5 p.m. (EDT)

NBC

Semifinal Matches Sat. (Aug. 27), 4-6 p.m. (EDT)
Championship Match Sun. (Aug. 28), 4-6 p.m. (EDT)

 

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