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Where are Kenya’s young golf guns?

Matthew Wolff
Matthew Wolff of the US plays his shot from the seventh tee during the final round of the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities on July 7 in Blaine, Minnesota. PHOTO | AFP 

If you have never heard of the 3M Open or Matthew Wolff or even Collin Morikawa, I won’t blame you. Allow me to enlighten you and also explain why those players and that event caught my attention. The 3M Open is a PGA Tour event staged at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota. In one of my columns many years ago, I did explain that TPC stands for Tournament Players Club — operated by the PGA Tour. The most famous TPC is Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida — this is also the headquarters of the PGA Tour. But I digress.

The 2019, 3M Open was won by 20-year-old American Matthew Wolff who only joined the paid ranks in June 2019 and has only played in four PGA Tour events, one of them as an amateur. Wolff, who is famous for his unorthodox swing, made famous by the power of social media, closed the tournament with an eagle on the 72nd hole to beat another young gun Collin Morikawa and sort of veteran Bryson DeChambeau by one stroke.

With this victory, Wolff banked $1,164,888 (Sh119m), a two-year exemption on tour (priceless) and invites to the 2020 Masters and PGA Championship (also priceless). Before the 3M Open, Wolff was ranked 1,659th on the Official World Golf Ranking, he moved to 135th after his victory!

Wolff, 20 years and Morikawa, 22 years, were the last pair to tee off on Sunday and they pushed each other to the penultimate hole. These two young men played together through their college days and at the 3M Open they announced their arrival on the big stage.

Morikawa was the top ranked amateur golfer in the world through May 2018 and his first event as a Pro was the RBC Canadian Open in June 2019. And whilst Morikawa did not win the 3M Open, his joint second place finish gave him “temporary status for the rest of the PGA Tour campaign”. This status allows him to receive unlimited tour invites for the rest of the PGA Tour season. On the OWGR, Morikawa moved from 623rd to 213th.

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By the way, I digress again, Toto Thimba Jnr, the 2019 KCB Karen Masters Champion, moved from 920th on the OWGR to 369th after his victory. Thimba similarly earned a two-year exemption on the Sunshine Tour and he will now be eligible to play on all the Sunshine Tour events, including those co-sanctioned with the European and Asian Tours. Not bad. Kenya’s Greg Snow moved from 2,019th to 1,323rd on the OWGR following his T7 finish at Karen. Bryson DeChambeau is currently ranked 6th, Tiger Woods is 5th, Justin Rose is 4th, Rory McIlroy is 3rd, Dustin Johnson is 2nd and Brooks Koepka is first.

At the 72nd and last hole of the 3M Open, DeChambeau, holed a putt for eagle to take the outright tournament lead; Wolff watched that eagle putt from the fairway and immediately knew he needed birdie to tie and eagle to win. Steve Lohmeyer, his caddy, handed him a 5-iron and he hit his ball just 26 feet short of the pin. His putt for eagle was true and just like that Wolff was a PGA Tour champion! Morikawa made birdie to tie DeChambeau in second place.

This week, these young guns, as well as 21-year old Victor Hovland from Norway, will tee it up at the John Deere Classic where they are favoured to dominate. Hovland won the 2018 US Amateur and was consequently invited to the 2019 Masters Tournament, the 2019 US Open and the 2019 Open Championship. He finished as the low amateur at the Masters and the low amateur at the US Open held at Peeble Beach. These performances placed him at the top of the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland have caught the attention of the golfing world and mine as well. Their individual stories, from their amateur days to their journey in the paid ranks are inspirational. And as these young guns perform this weekend, one can only wonder, where are the Kenyan and African young guns? Where is our Wolff?

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