British player with Kenyan link debuts at US Open tourney

Barclays Kenya Open tournament  2017 winner Aaron Rai from England at Muthaiga golf club on March 26. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Barclays Kenya Open tournament 2017 winner Aaron Rai from England at Muthaiga golf club on March 26. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

When Englishman Aaron Rai, from Wolverhampton, won the 2017 Barclays Kenya Open, he was quickly embraced by the Kenyan golfing fraternity as a “local”.

Rai’s connection to Kenya comes through his mother, who was born in Mombasa. Rai has already had a great 2017, finishing 7th at the Joburg Open in February and winning twice at the Barclays Kenya Open in March and at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9 in May. Rai is currently ranked 2nd on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman and 168th on the Official World Golf Ranking.

But 2017 just got so much better for Rai! At Walton Heath, he won the US Open Championship International Sectional Qualifier and with that victory secured a place at the US Open Golf Championship at Erin Hills. This will be Rai’s major championship debut. Speaking after the qualifiers, Rai said: “It’s a dream come true to play in any Major, and with it being the US Open it makes it extra special,”

“It is hard to put it into words at the moment because it hasn’t really sunk in. I didn’t have too many expectations coming into the round really. I didn’t’ want to get too far ahead of myself. It is 36 holes and there is a lot of golf to be played in that period so I tried not to have too many expectations.”

And in a scene similar to his Barclays Kenya Open victory at the Muthaiga Golf Club, his mother was by the 18th green. “It was nice on the 18th green and to have my mum and dad there was incredible, to be able to share that with them. These are moments you don’t get many times in your life so to have them for a moment like this is very special.”

Other qualifiers included South Africans Oliver Bekker, George Coetzee and Brandon Stone, Frenchman Joël Stalter, Englishman Eddie Pepperell and Welshman Bradley Dredge.

By the time you read this, the 117th US Open will be in its second round at Erin Hills, Wisconsin and hopefully, our adopted ‘Kenyan’ son, Rai, will make the cut and play into the weekend.

Incidentally, Erin Hills is the sixth public course to host the US Open joining Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Bethpage, Torrey Pines and Chambers Bay.

Rai will be playing alongside the world’s best golfers including former US Open champions Angel Cabrera, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth.

Rai is sponsored by Shabir Randeree, head of the City investment firm DCD. “He is helping me out for the US Open, but I am not taking a caddie with me. I am going to hire a local one because getting a local’s course knowledge could be really valuable.”

Best of luck to Rai, Kenya is with you.