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Junior golfers’ low scores a cause for major concern

Jaimee Gachaga
Jaimee Gachaga - finished as the top girl golfer at the Kenya Amateur Junior Stroke PLay Championship. PHOTO | COURTESY 

This past week, Kenya’s top junior golfers participated in the annual Kenya Amateur Junior Stroke-play Championship, a 72-hole mixed stroke-play event at the par-71 Muthaiga Golf Club. This event, the most prestigious junior tournament in Kenya, is a contest that tests our elite upcoming golfers, both boys and girls, under tough championship conditions. By the way, Crown Paints have supported this event for seven years running and the Crown Paints CEO, Rakesh Rao was present at Muthaiga to present the winners with their prizes.

After four-rounds, the top three slots went to the Muthaiga trio of Taimur Malik, 294, Mutahi Kibugu, 297 and Zubair Khan 301. Brian Omondi from Thika Sports Club finished fourth overall with a score of 310 and EN Njugu from Muthaiga was fifth with 313. The best girl was Jaimee Gachaga, who is based at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, with a gross score of 372. Jaimee’s older sister, Kellie Gachaga was the overall winner of the 2018 edition of the same event, beating both the boys and girls to claim the 2018 trophy. Nyali’s Andrew Wahome was the overall winner of the U13 category with a score of 327.

Given that these are our next generation of golfers in Kenya, what do these results tell us about the ‘state of golf’ in our country? Should we celebrate these results or should they be a cause for concern?

Let me start with the girls; whilst 14-year-old Jaimee may be over the moon, following in the footsteps of her older sister Kellie, her score of 372 is 88 over par over four rounds and an average of 22 over for each of the four rounds! Jaimee did not break 90, yet she was the top girl. This result should rightly give the Kenya Ladies Golf Union (KLGU) sleepless nights! Where are the girls from the Rose Naliaka Academy? Did that pipeline dry up?

In other news, 20-year-old Hinako Shibuno from Japan won the 2019 Women’s British Open, claiming her first major in her first year as a professional golfer. With this victory, Shibuno earned $675,000 (about Sh68 million) and LPGA membership going forward.

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By the way, Lydia Ko, from New Zealand, became the top ranked lady golfer at the age of 17 years and nine months! Ko was the LPGA Rookie of the year in 2014 and the LPGA Player of the year in 2015.

Where are Kenya’s top girls? What programmes does the KLGU have if any to produce the next generation of lady golfers? What is South Korea doing right? How are the South Koreans able to dominate women golf at the top level? Currently the two top lady golfers in the world are Koreans – Jin-Young Ko and Sung Hyun Park (www.rolexrankings.com); there are four Koreans in the top 10 of the women’s rankings. According to writer Kate Rowan, writing in the Telegraph (July 2019), the women’s golf revolution in South Korea has not been driven by the government but by parents. According to pro-golfer Inbee Park, currently ranked 6th in the world, the success of Korea’s lady golfers is due to their natural competitive and parental support.

Are Kenyan parents to blame for the poor performance of girls in golf? Do the older ladies in golf encourage or discourage young upcoming girls? Do they create an enabling or intimidating atmosphere for the next generation?

With regards to the boys, Malik, the overall winner this week, finished with a 10 over par score to secure victory. Malik is a near scratch golfer who was playing at home, his performance is commendable locally but wanting from a global lens. Earlier this year, at the De Zalze Golf Club in South Africa, the South African Stroke Play Championship was won by 18-year-old Jayden Schaper with a score of 19-under par after four rounds. The top 45 players, at this SA event, finished at level par or better scores – these are Malik’s opposite numbers, the guys he will face on the European and Sunshine Tour.

Our top juniors, both boys and girls, and our top elite amateurs continue to perform over par in our top national competitions and the results of this wanting performance is reflected at the professional level. And unless the parents, the golf clubs and the golf unions make some urgent and drastic changes to the development of a new crop of golfers, we will be condemned to watching the South Koreans and Japanese ladies perform, win and bank huge winnings on the global stage!

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