• 75°

Point’s Pretorius named NAIA’s best

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

In the world of NAIA golf, no one was better than Point University’s Ruan Pretorius last season.

Pretorius enjoyed a memorable senior season at Point that included two individual victories, as well as a fifth-place finish at the national championship.

His good work didn’t go unrecognized.

The Jack Nicklaus Award goes to the top golfers on the NCAA Division I, II, III, NAIA, and NJCAA levels.

Pretorius was named the best NAIA golfer in the country to win the Nicklaus award, and he got to meet the golfing legend last weekend during a ceremony that was a part of the Memorial golf tournament in Ohio.

For someone who has dedicated his life to golf, meeting the legendary Nicklaus was a thrill, and a somewhat surreal moment.

“The first time when I actually shook his hand, I knew it was Jack Nicklaus, but it didn’t feel right,” said Pretorius, a native of South Africa. “A little afterward, it was like, woah, I just met Jack Nicklaus. It kind of sunk in a little bit later.”

While the moment may have seemed a bit unreal, there’s no doubt that Pretorius belonged in that exclusive club.

Since arriving at Point University in the fall of 2017, Pretorius has been an elite player, and he has helped the program become one of the best in NAIA.

Pretorius has had four fantastic seasons at Point that includes four individual victories, and he saved his best for last.

Pretorius finished the season with an NAIA-best 71.53 scoring average, and when he wasn’t winning tournaments, he was in contention.

When the numbers were measured and calculated, no one in NAIA had a better 2020-2021 season than Pretorius.

When the final putt of the season had been taken, Pretorius thought he’d done enough to earn player of the year honors, but he didn’t know for sure.

“I made some math, and it was making sense for me to be number one, but I’m also not 100 percent sure what they do on the Golfstat rankings, how they handle the rankings,” Pretorius said. “So, I was hoping to be number one. When I finally saw it, it was pretty cool. That was my goal since I came here.”

Shannon Lipham, Point’s head coach, was proud to see one of his players earn that level of recognition.

“Is he the best player in the country? We felt like he was the best player in the country the last two years,” Lipham said. “But for him to actually get the recognition, it means everything to him, and it means a lot to us at Point University. Obviously we’re biased, but you ask any of the coaches we competed against, they’ll say Ruan is one of the best people I’ve ever been around. It’s been a true pleasure to be able to work with him.”

Pretorius is a member of a deep, talented squad that closed the season as the top-ranked NAIA team in the country.

Three other Point players, Cole Stevens, Ryan van der klis, and Eric Wowor, made the NAIA All-American team.

Pretorius believes the competition he faces each day in practice at the Point University Golf Club has helped sharpen his skills.

“We don’t even think about other teams,” Pretorius said. “We think about each other, and try to beat each other. Yes, we want our teammates to do good, but I want to win that tournament. I think that’s what kept us at the number one spot the whole year. We were so competitive, in a good way.”

Pretorius is also grateful to be able to be around teammates who he has grown so close to over the years.

“That’s one thing about us as a team at Point. We’re all very close,” Pretorius said. “It’s not like there’s one guy on the team. All of us, including the players and coaches, we’re all just one big family.”

Pretorius was recruited to come to Point University by former coach Jason Payne, who is also from South Africa.

It’s a decision that has obviously benefited the Point golf program, but has also paid off for Pretorius, who doesn’t believe he would have had the same success at a larger school.

“I was very glad to come to a small school like Point University,” Pretorius said. “I think this was a good start for me, to get me where I need to go. If I went to a big school from the beginning, I feel like it might have been too much. Point is a great school, and we have great athletes. I think it was good for me to get me on the right path.”

Pretorius has improved each season, and he and his teammates were enjoying a spectacularly successful 2020-2021 season when everything ended in March of last year because of COVID-19.

While disappointed to see his season cut short, Pretorius believes it was a positive long-term.

“Honestly, that actually helped my golf game,” Pretorius said. “That made me so mad, that I wanted to play the whole time and get better. For a lot of guys, the COVID thing was their downfall. For me personally, I think it helped me a lot. In that time frame, I practiced a lot, and I put a lot of work in. It paid off.”

While Pretorius has played college golf for four seasons, he has one year of eligibility remaining.

Because the 2020 season was impacted because of COVID-19, NAIA athletes who participated in a spring sport didn’t have to use up a year of eligibility.

Pretorius is taking advantage of that ruling to continue his college career at Mississippi State University, and he’ll be a member of the team for the 2021-2022 season.

“I’m very excited,” Pretorius said. “I have one more year left, and the way I look at it, I want to be a professional after that, and this can only help.”