Kenya Open: Will the amateurs rise to the occasion?

  • March 8, 2021
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Amateur golfers have won the US open a record eight times. But do not hold your breath…the last win came in 1930 when Bobby Jones won his fourth title. In 2015, Paul Dunne threatened to defy the form book when he was tied for the lead after the opening three rounds, he finished 30th after his game collapsed on the final day.

Playing on the big stage is no doubt intimidating for amateur players. Looking at the performance of amateurs at Kenya Open over the last 10 years, the script is the same. Nothing to write home about. Interestingly, only elite amateurs are selected to play at Kenya Open usually playing off scratch or better. To ensure only the crème de la crème represent the country, the Kenya Golf Union has designed a rigorous qualification system in which only the Strokeplay, Matchplay and Kenya Amateur Golf Championship winners are granted the ticket to play at Kenya Open.  KGU also uses the event to showcase junior golfers’ talent granting the Junior Golf Federation two slots. To spur competition, the last two ranked amateurs at Magical Kenya Open will not proceed to the Savannah Classic event which will be held at the same venue two days after Kenya Open.

So will the 2021 cohort fare any better at Karen this year? We take a look at the country’s elite amateurs who are destined for the job:

Jay Sandhu

Jay is a very experienced golfer who has played at Kenya Open twice before. He qualified for Magical Kenya Open 2021 after winning the Kenya Amateur Strokeplay championship. He will be making a comeback at Kenya Open after a 15 year absence. He debuted the tournament as a junior champion in 1997 and followed it with another appearance in 2005 as the country’s top amateur player. Sadly, he did not make the cut on both occasions. Jay’s undoing has been his chronic absenteeism from the Kenya Amateur Golf Championship series where he only participates in select events. He has been warming up for the Magical Kenya Open 2021 by playing on the Safari Tour. He had a great outing on the Safari Tour Muthaiga leg where he was the overnight leader on the opening day only to fizzle out in the ensuing rounds. He failed to make the cut in the final event held at Karen but he’s optimistic good fortune will come his way on the big day. “I am so set for the two tournaments. I have a different feeling going in to this year’s event since I am more experienced and will handle the pressure in a better way. I know my supporters are expecting so much from me and this keeps me very excited. I am now wiser and will be very patient with my game. I have set myself an ambitious target of finishing in the top 10,” Sandhu assures.

Isaac Makokha

Isaac Makokha

Makokha made history when he qualified for Kenya Open becoming the first player with a hearing disability to play in a European Tour event. He earned his ticket after edging out Jay Sandhu in a nerve-wrecking Kenya Matchplay final at Vetlab. Despite having some limited exposure on the international scene thanks to an appearance at a special tournament in Turkey and  the Victoria Cup, Makokha  will be entering Magical Kenya Open as a greenhorn seeking   to leave a  mark on the big  stage. Since qualifying for the tournament, Makokha has largely resorted to private coaching sessions under the tutelage of his brother Jeff Kubwa, a professional golfer at Muthaiga Golf Club. He had an underwhelming outing at the Safari Tour Karen leg where he missed the cut. Kubwa is confident that Makokha will do the country proud: “He is really excited and confident, not showing any signs of tension. We have been focusing on his long game which has not been sound of late. Since his short game is sharp, what will determine his success is how he gets off the tee. We know all eyes will be on him so this is a huge opportunity for Makokha to introduce himself to the world. I am sure, he will not disappoint.”

Paul Muchangi

Muchangi is looking forward to the teeing off of the Magical Kenya Open tournament with anxiety having been disqualified from the 2019 event for playing off a high handicap! He will be seeking nothing short of making the cut to prove wrong the European Tour officials who slammed brakes on his ambition two years ago. Muchangi is a proven warhorse in the Kenya Amateur Golf Championship circles where he has featured consistently for the past five years. He made it to Kenya Open after winning the Matchplay competition in 2019. He has endured a slow start in the KAGC 2021 season where he is currently outside the podium places, three events into the busy calendar. Muchangi had a not-so encouraging performance at Karen a fortnight ago where he failed to make the cut at the final Safari Tour event. “I do not want to set for myself lofty targets but I will just target playing -1 in every round. I am focused on playing all the eight rounds of the two events. I know our predecessors failed in their quest but I would like to reverse the trend with a respectable show at Karen,” said Muchangi.

Michael Karanga

The big man from Kiambu Golf Club is literally on fire. Karanga has stormed the amateur circles with gusto, frying his opponents with ease in the KAGC 2021 series. It is this form that has seen KGU reward him with a slot to play at the Savannah Classic event. A relatively experienced golfer, Karanga has been in fine form this year winning two of the three KAGC events and currently tops the charts in the Order of Merit ranking.

The Junior elite

Mutahi Kibugu

Mutahi Kibugu, Adel Balala and Malik Taimur earned their slots for being the top ranked juniors in the country. It is refreshing to note that the trio has been quite active at the highest level fighting it out with the seniors in the KGU majors where they have performed quite well. Further, they have been undergoing training in South Africa for close to one month in readiness for the big assignment.

It has been a busy season for Balala as the Nyali player chose to participate in the Safari Tour where he posted mixed results. His moment of glory on the Tour came during the Great Rift Valley leg where he finished ninth ahead of a host of seasoned professionals. In the run up to Kenya Open, Balala has been in fine form finishing second in the Kenya Amateur Strokeplay championship and third during the Sigona Bowl KAGC event in January this year.

Young Kibugu underwent a baptism of fire in 2019 crushing out of Kenya Open after shooting +18 in the opening two rounds. With more experience and specialised coaching the Muthaiga Club lad will be hoping for a better day in office this time round. He has been fairly consistent in elite amateur events finishing second at the Strokeplay championship and putting up a good show during the Matchplay qualifiers. A couple of appearances on Safari Tour this season must have helped Kibugu to map out a rock-solid strategy that should see him better the previous performance at Kenya Open.

Rising star Malik has been a joy to watch on the local scene especially during club competitions where he turns out for Muthaiga Golf Club. An appearance at Kenya Open will no doubt boost his confidence as he prepares to take on bigger assignments in future.  A memorable debut will not only earn him bragging rights in the elite amateur circles but will also provide a pointer to where his career is headed.

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