The cancellation of Magical Kenya Open 2020 may offer an unexpected opportunity for the Professional Golfers of Kenya (PGK) – the body that represents local pros, to push its case for more representation. PGK feels its membership was grossly underrepresented at the inaugural Magical Kenya Open last year, as a result of the event being promoted to European Tour status.
The push and pull between PGK and Kenya Open Golf Limited (KOGL) – the organizers of the event is nothing new. The lukewarm relationship between the two bodies has been in existence for a while, the bone of contention being the number of slots reserved for Kenyan professional golfers. Matters have been brought to a head following the elevation of Kenya Open to European Tour status, an upgrade from European Challenge.
Prior to the cancellation of the Magical Kenya 2020, Kenya was to be represented by nine professionals and five amateurs. Three pro slots, one each, had been given to Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Uganda while one Tanzanian amateur player was to grace the occasion. The rest of the field comprising of about 130 players was to be made up of European Tour players.
This split has not gone down well with PGK. Charan Tethy, PGK Chairman, says there’s room for Kenya to negotiate for more slots to motivate local pros. Citing the playing field in the South Africa Sunshine Tour events that fall under the European Tour calendar, Tethy feels that Kenyans are getting a raw deal: “How come the European Tour events held in South Africa have a 50-50 field? It is because they are treated as co-sanctioned events. That is what makes South Africa pros good players because they get an opportunity to play against better players. So my argument has always been if you don’t give Kenyans a chance to compete against the best players in the world, how are we ever going to get better?”
The elevation of Magical Kenya to a European Tour event was a double-edged sword. The event instantly grew in stature meaning that the quality of the field improved and now attracts the best players on the European circuit. Under the European Challenge status, Kenya Open was a breeding ground for budding talent attracting young players aspiring to join the Tour. On the flipside, the number of playing slots available for Kenyan pros shrunk by more than 50 percent.
Whereas PGK appreciates tourism promotion as the main reason why the government has invested in the Magical Kenya event, Tethy says investing in the development and exposure of local pros will complement the objectives achieved alongside staging a glamorous event. “Through Magical Kenya, we get four days of coverage on international television. It’s a great thing you get to showcase Kenya. But let’s invest in the local pros so that in the long run we can have several Kenyans playing on the entire European Tour circuit, generating lots of publicity for Kenya,” Tethy opined.
Even as PGK clamours for more playing slots, the local pros performance at Kenya Open has remained underwhelming. The only bright spark was in 1998 when Jacob Okello finished second. In the last 10 years, the best performance by Kenyans has been a top 20 finish. On average less than 10 per cent of Kenyan pros make the cut. This is a statistic that doesn’t bother PGK much as Tethy clutches on the law of probability to defend his much-maligned colleagues: “Yes, we play badly. Why are we always at the bottom page? Kenya Open is our only big event so we don’t have exposure. We don’t compete on a weekly basis like the European Tour guys do so. Therefore we are not going to be at a stage where we can compete. It takes time before you settle down and get better at the game. Let us think long-term.”
Citing the relative success enjoyed by Kenyans at the Karen Masters, Tethy believes a larger field is a boon for local pros. “We had a record nine of our guys make the cut at the Karen Masters last year because we had 30 Kenyans competing,” he points out.