When will a local player win Magical Kenya Open? This is the question that lingers on the mind of golf enthusiasts in March every when the country welcomes elite European Tour professional players to showcase their skill in Kenya. It is an open secret that in the tournament’s 50 years history, the locals have been overawed failing to put up a challenge save on one occasion.
Thirteen pros from Kenya have been entered for the double-header Magical Kenya Open and The Savannah Classic tournaments which tee off from next week at Karen Country Club. The highly experienced Kenyans will be seeking to stop a worrying trend over the last 10 years that has seen them operating largely in reverse gear.
A cursory glance at the leaderboards since 2010 doesn’t make for pleasant reading. On average, only two players make the cut at every competition. Whereas 2012 was the most “successful” year during which six players made the cut, 2010 was an anticlimax with only one player making it to the weekend rounds.
The chase for the title has remained a pipedream, the best placing by the locals stretching back to 1998 when Jacob Okello finished second after losing in a playoff. Since then, none of the local lads has challenged for the title with Greg Snow’s 10th place finish in 2014 the best result so far. In fact, 2014 can be considered the most successful year as Snow and Dismas Indiza were in contention up to the final round but their challenge ended on the front nine, the Mumias Sugar pro finishing in the 14th position.
Dismas Indiza, Okello, Riz Charania and David Wakhu boast the highest number of appearances among the Kenyan contingent, having played in all the 10 events in the last decade. Unfortunately, Okello and Wakhu have failed to make the cut on all the 10 occasions.
Indiza has had mixed fortunes making the cut five times his best show being a 14th place finish. Simon Ngige and Snow have also had relatively successful moments over the period. Ngige enjoyed his highest finish in 2019 when he was ranked 25th in the star-studded field having made the cut on two previous occasions. Snow has tasted the weekend rounds at Kenya Open only on three occasions failing to make the cut in six attempts.
The 13 home players who boast a combined appearance of 83 enter into this year’s competition in a better shape financially, mentally and physically. Never before have local pros been better prepared and funded like this year, raising hope that the jinx of missing the cut will finally come to an end. A run of 10 events on the Safari Tour has served to boost the players’ match fitness while financial incentives totaling close to Kshs 500,000, per player, courtesy of European Tour, Vision 2030 secretariat and EABL will ensure that the players stay focused on the task ahead.
So will 2021 be the year when our much-maligned pros stage a coup d’etat at the Magical Kenya Open? T-OFF News takes a look at the recent form of select players:
Name: Dismas Indiza
Club: Mumias Sugar
Turned pro: 1998
Kenya Open Debut: 1995
Best Performance at Kenya Open: 13th position 2014
Indiza has had a very good season on the Safari Tour where he finished top in the Order of Merit to clinch the overall title. Consistency, discipline and a high work rate have ensured that the veteran has remained evergreen outsmarting youthful opponents on the Tour. Two outright wins and a couple of runner up finishes were enough to earn him a cool Kshs 980,000 in the just ended Safari Tour season. He will be carrying the hopes of the nation when he tees off at Karen next week well aware that the biological clock is ticking fast.
Turned pro: 2010
Best performance at Kenya Open: T10 in 2014
Kenya Open appearances: 10
To say that Greg is an exceptionally talented golfer is an understatement. Since storming the local golf scene 12 years ago as a promising amateur player for the Kenya national team, Greg was unstoppable sweeping all honours before him a feat that saw him turn pro in 2010. He would continue with this form in the paid ranks climaxing his performance with a respectable T10 finish at the Kenya Open 2014 after shooting a career best -6. Since then, Greg has missed the cut in all the subsequent Kenya Open events the nadir of his career being the 2016 event where he finished in position 145 after playing +12 in the opening two rounds! He has not had a good season on Safari Tour surrendering the title he clinched in the 2019/2020 season after finishing third on the Order of Merit. In fact, Greg only managed to win one event- Limuru leg- this season a far cry from his exploits in the previous season when he won five rounds on the Safari Tour to be crowned the overall winner.
Turned pro: 2007
Kenya Open Debut: 2006
Simon has fond memories of the Magical Kenya 2019 where he was the best placed Kenyan after he finished in the 25th position. That famous birdie chip on the last hole ensured Simon took home a decent 10,615 Euros pay. He had another fine run in 2017 when he shot -3 gross to finish in the 34th position one shot better than his 46th rank performance the previous year. He will be hoping to build on this momentum to avoid previous erratic performances that saw him miss the cut six times in nine years. The Thika Club player had good run on the Safari Tour finishing fourth in the Order of Merit.
Name: David Wakhu
Club: Golf Park
Turned Pro: 2009
Kenya Open Debut: 2009
Kenya Open Appearances: 11
David has not had a good time at Kenya Open missing the cut on all 11 occasions he has featured, coming painfully close several times. He will be hard pressed to bring to an end this barren run. Wakhu earned his place after finishing fifth on the Order of Merit. Interestingly, the Golf Park man never misses in the top 10, a streak that has seen him amass invaluable points in all the Safari Tour legs. A winner of the Sigona leg on the Tour, Wakhu must abandon his conservative approach to the game to make an impact at Magical Kenya Open. Pegged back by a nagging injury early last year, “Davie” is fit and raring to go hoping that this time round he will be in the mix when ‘trumpet sounds’ on Friday evening after the opening two rounds.
Name: Jacob Okello
Club: Golf Park
Turned Pro: 1992
Kenya Open Debut: 1993
Best Performance at Kenya Open: Runners Up 1998
Jacob is the most successful local professional in the history of Kenya Open. Having lost in a playoff in 1998, this feat is yet to be achieved by any other Kenyan. Jacob made his debut at Kenya Open in 1993 and has been a perennial contender since then. After the promising performance in 1998 Jacob’s form dipped and has failed to make the cut in the last 10 attempts. Magical Kenya Open 2021 may be his swan song as he prepares to switch to the Seniors Tour. He did not have a good run on the Safari Tour and finished a distant 13th in the Order of Merit, a position that saw him grab the last slot reserved for local players.
Name: Samuel Njoroge
Club: Kenya Railway
Turned Pro: 2020
Njoroge has had an excellent start in his pro career that is barely a year old. 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. He announced his arrival on the pro scene with a bang finishing in the top three in the first two events on the Safari Tour. Though form deserted him in the subsequent rounds, Njoroge pressed on to finish 8th on the Order of Merit. Going by his hunger for glory, he is destined for big things if he keeps his head down and stays focused. “Njoro”, the GOTY champion 2018 and 2019 and Kenya Amateur Strokeplay champion in 2019, will be banking on his international experience with the Kenya amateur team and stints at the British Open Amateur Championship, Qatar Masters and Lagos Open to grind out a positive result at Karen.