Kenya’s top ranked amateur golfer Samuel Njoroge has finally joined the paid ranks, bringing to an end a glittering stint that saw him sweep all the honors at the amateur level. Arguably Kenya’s finest amateur golfer, prior to turning pro Njoroge was playing of an unprecedented +4 handicap a feat that saw him rise to position 523 in the prestigious World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Njoroge has kept many in the golf circles guessing about his next move. Having far surpassed the Professional Golfers of Kenya, PGK, requirements for turning pro, Njoroge has been playing consistently in the amateur events despite attaining handicap zero more than two years ago. According to the PGK constitution, a player has to play off handicap zero to be admitted to pro ranks, a revision from the earlier provision where anyone playing off handicap five could turn professional. One must have also represented the country at international amateur events besides being a consistent top performer at the Kenya Golf Union GOTY series.
“It’s true I met all the requirements a long time ago. But I didn’t want to rush things. A player turning pro at handicap zero will definitely struggle to return a score of -2 or better in competitions. That’s why I decided to push myself further. At +4, I should comfortably play rounds of -4 or under,” said Njoroge.
Njoroge is joining the pro ranks at a time debate is raging on the viability of professional golf in Kenya. Shorn of sponsorship, local pros depend solely on the Safari Tour for match fitness and earnings. The Tour, which brings together more than 60 golfers drawn from Kenya and East and Central African countries has a prize purse of Kshs 10 million. Gone are the days when corporates notably Barclays, KCB Bank, Kenya Airways and East African Breweries Ltd bankrolled pro events. Sponsorship woes aside, PGK is witnessing an unprecedented swell in its membership currently standing at slightly above 65.
Said Njoroge: “I am aware that it has not been rosy for professional golfers in Kenya. But this will not be deterrent in any way. I have set sight on a bigger goal. My game plan is to get on the Asian and Sunshine Tours first, then become active on the European Challenge with an eye on ultimately qualifying for the European Tour.”
No doubt, gracing the European Tour will be the pinnacle of a meticulous journey for the 25 year old father of one. It all began at the Njoro Golf Club when young Njoroge would tag a long his father during weekends. “I was around nine years old when I stepped in to Njoro Golf Club for the first time. I was lucky to be introduced to this game very early by my father who was a regular golfer at the club. However, I only took keen interest in the game when I was in high school,” Njoroge recalls. After completing high school, the young Njoroge moved to Nanyuki Sports Club where he secured a job in the Administration department. It is here that he immersed himself into golf before switching to his current base Kenya Railway Golf Club in 2015.
Njoroge is banking on his form and consistency that has seen him dominate the East Africa amateur scene for the last four years. Since breaking into the national team in 2017, he has won several accolades including GOTY champion 2018 and 2019 and Kenya Amateur Strokeplay champion in 2019. He was part of the Kenya team that won the East Africa Challenge and the Victoria Cup. The widely travelled Njoroge has also played at the British Open Amateur Championship, Qatar Masters and Lagos Open.
Beginning next week, Njoroge saunter’s into a new territory as he commences life as a professional golfer when Limuru Country Club hosts the first round of Safari Tour season three. He will have to navigate through 10 events against seasoned professionals to clinch a ticket to Magical Kenya Open 2021. “I am so set for the Safari Tour. I know competition at the Tour is tough. But I will not be drawn in to competing against individuals; my goal is to play against the course,” said Njoroge.
And as he marches into the paid ranks stoically, “Njoro”, the man from Njoro town knows it will take blood, sweat and tears for him to emulate his hero, Justin Thomas. He is full of praise for the former National team coach John Van Liefland and an amorphous group of benefactors dubbed “Good Golfers” for chaperoning him over the last couple of years.