Applying his relaxed demeanour and natural optimism to his game is one of the key qualities that has led to the rise of Madibaz golfer JP van der Watt. The Nelson Mandela University student-athlete underlined his potential in March when he mastered unfamiliar conditions on his way to be crowned Humewood Golf Club champion at his first attempt. Van der Watt, who had only played the links course on a handful of occasions prior to the tournament, said his philosophy was to apply his life values in the heat of the battle. "I strive to be positive and happy and therefore try to see the good in all situations. So why should it be different when I'm playing golf? "I also think my ball striking and the way I conduct myself on the course have helped me to reach the level I have." He acknowledged, though, that there was always room for improvement and identified his short game as a vital area. "Working on that is the most important thing for me to be able to take that next step," said the first-year B.Com student. "If I can shave off one or two shots each round because my short game is sharp and precise it will catapult me to achieving better things sooner." Although Van der Watt grew up in George, matriculating from Glenwood House, he resides in Port Elizabeth while attending the varsity. He picked up his first club at the age of 10 and an early memory was of him playing at the George Golf Club for the first time with his father and two women. "I just remember that they were wonderful ladies who helped me to understand the etiquette of golf and shared their stories," he said. "My passion for the game developed over time. There was not really one defining moment where I just thought, 'okay, this is my game'." Claiming the Humewood title "with the history and tradition behind it" was one of his career highlights, admitted the 19-year-old, who boasts best scores of 62 and 64 respectively in social and competitive rounds. The other was winning the Southern Cape junior match play title last year. Van der Watt, who has played for Southern Cape teams from U13 to U19, understood the value of hard work on the course and in the classroom. "I aim for a quick chip and putt between classes or sneak in nine holes before dark. I just try to fit it in during my day. "With regard to my studies, I tend to wake up really early and do some schoolwork then or at night. So I try to balance out academics, golf and free time." The ocean features prominently in the latter. "I absolutely love the sea and that's where I go to relax, whether it's surfing, bodyboarding, swimming or just going for a walk on the beach. "I also really enjoy fishing; it's a hobby that's grown and it's something relaxing to do with my friends." He acknowledges a range of people who had an influence on his fledgling career. "My dad has to be the main one for everything he has done and the sacrifices our family has made for my golf. "[Coach] Val Holland, back in George, really helped me to develop as a player, while [training PGA professional] Pieter Rademeyer from Humewood and Mr Karl du Preez from Madibaz Golf Club have given me a lot of support." Religion is a cornerstone of his life and he thanked the CRC PE church for their support, love and guidance. "A verse that I live by is Philippians 4:13: 'I can do all things through him who gives me strength'." CAPTION: Madibaz student-athlete JP van der Watt has made an impact in his first year at Nelson Mandela University, winning the Humewood Golf Club championships in March. Photo: Supplied