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Society

Playing Golf for a living

Kenyan professional golfer Abdul Sihag during an interview at the Vipingo Ridge Club House. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG
Kenyan professional golfer Abdul Sihag during an interview at the Vipingo Ridge Club House. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG 

If you love golf, chances are that you have dreamt of playing the game for a living or at least your children turning into pros.

At 27, Abdul Sihag is living the dream having started young and by watching his father. At seven years old, he had started mastering how to swing the clubs and chase the little ball on the green fairways.

The golf course was only 40 minutes away from home which he describes as a challenging desert golf course with just mats.

“My father was starting at the same time so I followed him to the range every day,’’ he said.

Golf scholarship

As a youngster, he was involved in varied sports including competing in swimming championships in Saudi Arabia before focusing on golf later on.

Thanks to the golf academy he joined in high school, he was able realise his potential in the sport.

When he started it was not too serious. He played at the academy for four years and then got a scholarship to a US university where he played for four more years before turning professional.

“It is a fun game. It really makes me think. There is a lot of factors when it comes to playing golf. You have to have the right mental ability. This is the fourth year now as a professional and I am trying to make it to top tour (PGA tour),” said Mr Sihag who mainly plays in the Middle East-based Mena tour.

But being a professional golfer, he says, comes with its expectations and realities.

“You have to be good player. Anybody can turn professional but when you compete with other professionals, it is measured by your ability. You lose you amateur status once you have accepted money as a price,” he said.

His schedule

The golfing experiences and challenges change with each of the tournament he plays in.

“I have not won any big event yet but I have been close and it is all about improving and getting better. I am trying to breakthrough to the next level which is the main thing,” he said.

The professional golfer frequently jets into the country to train at the Baobab golf course in Vipingo where his family owns a home.

After prayers at 5 am, he starts his morning at the gym, then goes to the driving range. He can spend up to three to four hours at the 18-hole golf course.

“I live on the fifth hole of the course. I go home as I play on the different holes.” His afternoons are also spent on the course. This time, he makes sure he plays in all the 18 holes.

‘‘Vipingo Ridge golf course has a big range. I also get to use my own balls, then I get the proper feedback than hitting some old dead golf balls,” he says.

He also banks on an online coach who watches him swing from Germany.

“Once a year, I meet him. I know a lot about my swing but of course you need a professional to give an opinion about it,’’ he says.

Locally, he has played as an amateur in different courses. In 2009, he played for the Kenya junior team at Leisure Lodge Beach and Golf Resort.

In the same years, he went to Zimbabwe to play for the main national team that became second.

He also represented Kenya in 2010 in the annual Africa Zone Six Golf Championship at the Gaborone Golf Club course in Botswana.

“It was the first time Kenya beat South Africa which had been winning for 30 years,’’ he said.

Earn a fortune

As for the future, Mr Sihag wants to be the best player in the world.

“I also go to the US where there are a lot of people to play against. I like the competition as practising every time will not help if I don’t go out there and play,” said the golfer.

To have more professional players, he says, clubs in the country can do their part in encouraging junior golfers to come up the ranks by having an academy. Kenya lacks many young golfers between the age of 15 to 18.

“In Kenya, there lacks a strong junior programme. We need it especially to grow the game and competition in Kenya,” he said.

To young golfers interested in being professionals he says: “Play every time you have a chance go to the golf course. Compete against your friend. Play a lot, have fun and make sure you are improving.”

As many professional golfers, he looks up to Tiger Woods, who is a model of professional greatness.

Together with Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, they started swinging clubs as toddlers and now they earn billions of dollars from prize money, endorsements and appearance fees.

Vipingo Ridge’s golf captain Giancarlo Bonanno says there are different types of professional golfers. Those who teach and the ones that play. Those teaching charge between Sh2,000 to Sh4,000 per hour depending on who and where the game is played. In Kenya, professional golfers depend on winning. If you do not win, there is no pay.

Endorsements and appearance fees only apply to the renowned golfers, he said.

For Mr Sihag, he says golf is his job and hobby.

‘‘I studied accounting in college. Which one would you choose being behind the desk or outside playing golf?”

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