Sporting rivalries spice up matches

Simon Ngige
Simon Ngige follows the flight of his tee from hole 10 during the Safari Tour golf series at Muthaiga Golf club on January 12, 2020. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT 

Through the ages, sports rivalries have added excitement to various individual and team sports. Some rivalries are deep rooted in history – for example the Manchester United – Liverpool rivalry goes back to 1894 when the Manchester Ship Canal was built resulting in job losses in Liverpool, a major sea port at the time - I bet you didn’t know that! On the other hand, some rivalries have been ‘manufactured’ by the media, sports commentators and even players themselves. The Floyd Mayweather Jr vs Conor McGregor fight is a good example of a ‘fake’ rivalry between two sporting icons. Their 2017 10-round bout, marketed as “the biggest fight in combat sports history” was successful in driving billions of dollars in publicity and earnings.

In golf, the rivalry between Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer went on for over 25 years and the ‘Big Three’ as they were refereed to, amassed 34 major titles between them in that time. Sir Nick Faldo and Greg Norman also enjoyed a rivalry in the 90s that reached a crescendo in 1996 when Faldo claimed the 1996 Masters, overturning a six-shot deficit in the final round to defeat Norman. Through the years, the Tiger Woods vs Phil Michelson rivalry has continued to create a buzz, however, on paper the two players are two worlds apart.

Woods has 82 PGA Tour victories including 15 Majors to his name, Lefty has 44 Tour victories including five majors. Woods was world number one for a total of 683 weeks, Lefty’s career best ranking was world number two. In November 2018, Woods and Mickelson went head to head in a made-for-TV match with a $9 million winner take all pot. Mickelson was victorious in that 2018 match and there are plans to stage the match once more. The Jordan Spieth vs Justin Thomas rivalry faded away with the decline of Spieth’s game and the Rory McIlroy vs Brooks Koepka rivalry is just getting started. In an interview with Daniel Hicks of the American Foreign Press, Koepka downplayed the rivalry saying that Rory’s performance on the golf course did not match up to his. “I have been out here for five years and Rory hasn’t won a major since,” he said.

“I am Number one in the world and I have got open road in front of me, I don’t see it as rivalry.” But that was in October 2019 – today, McIlroy is the new World Number One. Back in October 2019, McIlroy said Koepka was right, they were not rivals. “Koepka has been the best player in the world the last couple of years – winning four majors. I love Brooks, he is a great guy,” McIlroy said. “I think if you take what Brooks said out of context then it can become this big thing that it’s become. But Brooks and I are good, we’re good friends.” (

In Kenya, many stories are told of the rivalry between John Mucheru and David Wandua who were both great amateur golfers in their day. On paper, Wandua was the better golfer, but Mucheru had the flair and panache, he was the more likeable golfer, punching well above his weight.


Wandua was a bigger man and stories are told of Mucheru asking his caddy for his 8-iron into a 200-yard par-3 and the caddy would hand him a 6-iron which he would fly perfectly to the green. Wandua, thinking Mucheru had indeed used an 8-iron, would ask for a 9-iron to prove he is stronger and he would end up short of the target much to his dismay. Such stories paint the picture of a witty Mucheru, a golfer who employed both skill and mind games to defeat his opponents.

In recent times, and on the Safari Tour, Greg Snow and Dismas Indiza have built a healthy rivalry – in the second season of the Safari Tour for example, Snow and Indiza have won six of the last nine events totally dominating the Tour.

And whilst Snow led the Safari Tour rankings into the 2019 Magical Kenya Open, it was Simon Ngige who was the darling of the Kenyan crowd. Hopefully the Snow and Indiza rivalry will propel them to the top 10 of the Magical Kenya Open 2020!

Who is your rival?