5.15pm Sunday. The sizeable crowd stands still. The silence is palpable. 29-year old Isaac Makokha paces up and down the hole number 16 expansive green at Vetlab. He has to complete perhaps the biggest task ever in his life- sink the putt to win the Kenya Amateur Matchplay 2020 championship.
Never mind that the ball is barely two feet away from the hole. This is a huge putt. A career, if not life-defining moment. After summoning courage, a nervous-looking Makokha addresses the ball and calmly rolls the ball in to the hole. The crowd goes into a frenzy. History has been written. It is the first time in Kenya’s history a player with hearing impairment has won the prestigious title in the event’s 90-year history!
“I just can’t believe this,” says an emotional Makokha through a sign language interpreter.
Makokha’s long walk to stardom has been wrought with challenges. It all began when he lost hearing ability at the tender age of five years. “We were so shocked. What began as just a normal ailment was soon to change the boy’s life forever,” Boniface Simwa, a professional golfer and close family friend remembers painfully. Undeterred by the cruel turn of events Makokha’s parents took him to a special school where he excelled in his studies all the way to secondary school level.
When life gives you lemons, why not make lemonade? Born and brought up in a golf environment- Makokha’s father worked at Eldoret Golf Club- the lad would quickly develop interest in caddying. He took up the role at Eldoret Club with sheer commitment till maturing to mid- twenties. While in Eldoret he kept a keen eye on the progress of his elder brother Jeff Kubwa-now a professional golfer, and close family friends pro Boniface Simwa, Sylvester Luhombo and Nelson Simwa who had moved from Eldoret to Vetlab under the Golf Talent Foundation programme. And the report was encouraging. The cohort had performed beyond expectations, conquering the Kenya Golfer of The Year, GOTY, events at will. In 2015, Makokha made the big move the capital city where he secured a Caddy job at Vetlab.
Playing of handicap 14, Makokha literally immersed himself in the game, taking part in almost all GOTY events. And he has never looked back since. Now playing of handicap one, he broke in to the Kenya Amateur team two years ago and has become a regular, his last international outing being the Victoria Cup tournament against Uganda. Makokha also represented the country at Deaflympics in Turkey.
Despite all this exposure, Makokha reckons that the Kenya Matchplay 2020 championship has been so far his toughest assignment. Unlike the previous editions, this year’s event had the highest entries ever forcing the winner to navigate through eight matches in four days! And in line with the Covid-19 protocols, players were forced to self-caddy.
“I almost gave up during the final. I was so fatigued and playing against a very experienced opponent –Jay Sandhu. Jay was fantastic, he really pushed me; to win 4-2 was unbelievable. The home crowd and the presence of my brother Jeff and mentor Boniface kept me going. This was a real test of endurance,” Makokha said.
Playing the final of an elite tournament at Vetlab was indeed a blessing for Makokha. Literally, the whole crowd was behind him. And no doubt, he took the home advantage to the fullest, patrolling the course with confidence. From tee to green, he did not disappoint.
As he savours the victory, Makokha is already looking at what lies ahead: “I would love to win the Magical Kenya Open. I know that’s sounds funny but believe you me, it is possible. Given a chance, I will fully participate in the upcoming Safari Tour to gauge my game against professionals. I will put in my best before turning professional sometime next year.”
When it rains, it pours. A part from winning the ticket to play at Magical Kenya Open 2021, Makokha has been rewarded with full membership at Vetlab Sports Club. No doubt, more goodies will be coming forth as he prepares for the prestigious event.
Magical Kenya Open is a platform to showcase Kenya to the world through international TV, with an estimated audience of 500 million across the globe. March 2021 will indeed be a magical moment for Makokha and the entire nation, when he will tee up at Karen alongside elite golf professionals from Europe.