Seated on a couch at a golf club in Thika, Simon Ngige wears an unassuming look of authority. The authority of dominance on the course.
Simon started off as a caddie, carrying golf kits for players in his hometown of Njoro, to learn the sport and to earn a living. A journey to Australia later and becoming a pro 10 years ago, he is now a household name in the golfing arena.
He talked to James Kahongeh about humble beginnings, of glorious days and life away from the green.
Golf has a certain coolness around it. Are you a cool person?
The days of golf as a sport for elegant people with money are well behind us. You don’t have to be a member of a golf club to play, for instance. You just need to pay a small fee for training. Golf courses have also multiplied all over Kenya. It’s easier to introduce children to the sport today than it was before. But yes, I’m cool (Laughs).
Think of your life without golf. What other balls would you be whipping around?
I’m a business person. I would be running my different ventures and investing more. But talking of balls, I started off as a footballer before crashing out after it failed to hit the nerve for me. I then tinkered with rugby. If I were younger, I would play rugby. But with age, the energy has left my bones.
You look energetic though…
Yes, for golfing. Not for running and diving.
What’s your personality type: half-full or half-empty?
I like to look at life positively. I’m a hopelessly optimistic person. I believe in situations that other people dismiss as hopeless. Sometimes I’m vindicated. Other times I’m left licking wounds. So, half-full.
At 35, what fears have you put to bed?
As a younger man, I feared that I might not be able to provide for my children, to educate them, secure insurance and a roof above their heads. I looked at the future with a sense of dread. Well, our firstborn arrived, then came the second one and I turned 35.
My family has never lacked. I can’t believe just how misplaced my fears were. Can you worry about a day that you haven’t lived?
But having to leave my young family for an entire month to play outside the country is always a hard decision to make. I can’t take them with me, yet I need to play.
Are there failures in your life that you’ve since made peace with?
Leaving Australia to come back to play golf in Kenya was a monumental gaffe in terms of my career. But perhaps that’s the arc my life was meant to follow.
I was already establishing myself as a professional golf player. My friends even asked me to remain and play there. But I chose to come back to Kenya. Today, I would be playing in the PGA with other golfing greats.
Between luck, destiny and hard work, what would you say has shaped your professional life?
I don’t believe in the first two. They don’t exist in isolation. You have to go out to the world to meet your luck. It doesn’t come looking for you. Destiny is what your life becomes when hard work and luck walk side by side.
You started off your golfing career as a caddie. Has this influenced the way you relate with them?
My desire was to learn how to play rather than to make a living. That said, there are full-time caddies who earn their living through this job. Carrying the kit for four hours across a seven-kilometre stretch is an exhausting task. You have to pay your caddie well, be kind and talk to them nicely.
Away from the course, what else do you do?
I like to spend time with my daughters, aged nine and 10 months. We go to watch rugby together. I also have a golfing school where I teach children the essentials of the sport. My desire is to grow the sport in Kenya such that when we exit the scene, there will be a new generation of serious golfers to take over.
Let’s talk about fallibility. If your life were to be a movie, what scene would you cut out if you could?
I wouldn’t be married to my first wife. It was such a terrible experience that by the time we parted ways, I had sworn never to marry or have a woman in my life again.
Tiger Woods just returned from the abyss. What lessons did you learn from his free-fall?
Overcoming a double back and knee injury after a series of surgeries and to win a major tournament was unbelievable. Few sportsmen recover to play ever again after a disastrous injury. Tiger had a strong will to recover, which is admirable. His resurgence is testament that anyone can come back from whatever hole.
What makes you feel small?
(Scowls) My children are my point of weakness. The thought of being unable to provide for them frightens me.
Any favourite movie line?
I grew up watching the John Rambo (acted by Sylvester Stallone) films. In one of them whose title I can’t remember, Rambo asked: ‘‘What’s money?’’. The significance of this seemingly simple question stupefies many people. If someone gave you $500 million and took your happiness and friends, that person would have killed you. The best things in life are free, but also priceless.
What part of you would you give up without feeling a sense of loss?
I’m too kind, sometimes even to undeserving people. I’d gladly surrender this attribute. But if I were to lose it all, I’d let go my business. For my family and golf, I’d fight down the trench.
So what sinks your boat?
I dislike politics and politicians. Politicians are not only deceptive but outright liars too. Those who worship politics and its practitioners are not any better either.