Over many years of commenting on golf affairs, and of being associated with the Kenya Open Golf Championship, I am often asked if a local will ever win the Kenya Open. The quick answer is yes! In the fullness of time, maybe in 2020 or 2050, a Kenyan will surely win the event. However, from where I sit, a win is not the only prize Kenyan golfers should be aiming for, to win, our top golfers must first compete!
Our golf professionals have been teeing it up at the Kenya Open for 51 years now and they have not truly competed. Let me explain.
From 1991 to 2019, a good 29 years, Kenyan amateurs and pros have made the cut a total of 82 times.
Now, if you consider that about 70 golfers make the cut, then a total of 2,030 golfers have made the cut in that time; the Kenyan share of that would be four per cent.
This number is also reflected in the prize monies won. From 1999 to 2019, a total of euros 4.15 million (Sh469 million) has been competed for and won at the Kenya Open; of these, Kenyan have banked less than Sh15 million or about three per cent.
Back to my original point – whilst a Kenyan winning this prestigious event would be good, competing, year in, year out would be better. If Kenyan pros had won 50 percent of the prize money on offer every year that would have a bigger impact than a solitary win now and then. Two to three Kenyans finishing in the top 10 every year would drive viewership and passion for the game of golf within our borders and even within the east and central African golf community.
The Rugby Sevens team for example, has only ever won a single HSBC Sevens Series. But their performance has been largely consistent through the years and this has no doubt had a huge impact on the local game, Kenya’s brand equity and sports tourism numbers. The same can be said of our marathoners and other athletes – their consistent performance is invaluable to our nation.
The current crop of our golf pros, have done their best at the Kenya Open – we can’t realistically expect more from them. Dismas Indiza and Jacob Okello have each played in 20 plus Kenya Opens; from 1999 to 2019, Indiza banked euros 14,731 (Sh1.66 million) and Okello banked euros19,105 (Sh2.16 million).
They both finished inside the top-10 twice each in that same period – and this circles back to my point about competing.
Simon Ngige, who carried Kenya’s hopes at the 2019 Magical Kenya Open, was the Amateur winner in 2007, since that time, he has managed to make the cutthree times, in 2016, 2017 and 2019 banking a total of Sh1.48 million largely boosted by a win of Sh1.2 million at the 2019 event.
The same story can be written of Greg Snow, arguably our best golf professional; since 2007, Snow has made the cut only three times, in 2011, 2013 and 2014 (www.europeantour.com) – banking Sh730,000.
Pros play for cold hard cash, the competition, therefore, is not just about winning, it is about banking as much money as possible every year – at 3-4 percent we haven’t done well.
Is there a future? In the last eight years, no amateur golfer has made the cut at the Kenya Open, not one. In fact since 1991, only six amateurs have done so. You will agree with me that our elite amateurs are our future and if they are not making the cut and competing, then our future is bleak.
Should we blame the Kenya Golf Union, the Junior Golf Foundation or perhaps the golf clubs? Whose job is it to nurture the next generation of elite golfers?
Our top amateurs have continued to perform very poorly indeed; John Karichu played in four Kenya Opens, his best result was in 2016, a +13 score. Daniel Nduva and Mathew Wahome are both young promising golfers, they have failed to impress. Mutahi Kibugu, another young talented amateur finished +18 at the 2019 event while Mike Kisia, Edwin Mudanyi and Samuel Chege finished with scores of +22, +13 and +4 respectively.
These are not great scores – although they didn’t beat the +29 record set by Robinson Owiti at the 2015 event, Owiti finished in last place a clear 12 shots from the second last player!
Can a Kenyan win the Magical Kenya Open? Yes! But first, we must learn to compete!