Why cash incentives are not improving local pros performance

  • March 31, 2021
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Dejection and collective disappointment were palpable when curtains came down on the Magical Kenya 2021 and the Kenya Savanna Classic double-headers last week. Reason? The local pros had failed, once again, to take the game to the visiting pros.

One thing that stands out among golfers is the spirit of optimism, a trait that is perhaps inculcated during the first golf lesson.

But who would fault the fans when for the first time in the 50 year history of Kenya Open, our gallant pros were going into the battle better prepared, better equipped and facilitated than ever before? The pros were heading into the European Tour events fresh from a grueling 10-leg Safari Tour season that saw the winners shoot sub-par rounds on all but one occasion. And in recognition of this, brands came queuing to motivate the players and prepare them mentally for the upcoming challenge…Vision 2030, Kenya Tourism Board, East African Breweries Limited, Absa Bank to name but a few.  

In fact, for just qualifying for the event, each of the 13 local pros earned close to Kshs 500,000 in cash and in kind, factoring in that the European Tour released Kshs 258,000 to each player to help them defray the high costs associated with meeting the Covid 19 health protocols during their stay in the “Bubble”.

Preparing for a tournament the stature of Kenya Open is no doubt demanding and involving. In the past it was not uncommon to encounter “SoS messages” from players in the run up to the event. This is what our generous corporates had covered this year to “ensure that the players are not distracted so that they can focus on the game”.

Unfortunately, the end result was the same…not only did we fail to have a local win or challenge for the title  at the two events, the number of Kenyans making the cut dropped to the tournament’s all-time low.

Before we ask ourselves the reason behind this “bad” performance, let’s have a brief insight into the routine of the greatest golfer of all time- Tiger Woods as captured in an article “16 Surprising Things Tiger Woods Does To Stay Healthy” published last year in TheThings website:

  • Runs up to 30 miles a week, either outside or on a treadmill.
  • 13 hours a day of running, weight training and practice rounds.
  • Play Basketball Or Tennis
  • Two hours of weight lifting often at low reps, to build up muscle in his arms.
  • Two hours at the practice range.
  • One hour putting daily.
  • Plays at least nine holes daily to keep tournament ready.
  • High-protein low fat diet to fuel his body so he can work out.
  • Takes lots of water and energy drinks
  • Eats five to seven meals a day to keep his body-powered.

From Woods’ routine, four things stand out; Management, Coaching, Fitness and Exposure.  There’s no shortcut to success. For our professional golfers to scale the heights and ply their trade in the elite PGA and European Tour, there must be a carefully planned and well thought out strategy. And this is where the role of organized, not ad hoc, sponsorship comes to fore.

Whereas corporates get some short term publicity and visibility benefits splashing money on the pros a few weeks before Kenya Open, this gesture does very little in developing the players. Granted that the players earn some little cash and corporate merchandise, this is not the engagement we should be proud of.  Corporates can milk better value out of a long term association with the pro golfers, an association that should be premised on tangible goals.

So how do we get there?

Corporates should sign long term, not two weeks, contracts with the pros individually or collectively. The engagement should be designed around the golf calendar. This will be realized by looking at the local and international events that the players qualify to participate in and cherry pick the relevant ones. For instance, consider the budget for playing on the Safari Tour, a few standout Sun Shine Tour events, Zambia Open etc. Then come up with a 10 month calendar and a proposed budget.

After drafting the calendar jointly with the player/s, the two parties should then come up with the season’s objective. The most realistic objective in this case would be to improve on the player’s World Golf Ranking, OWGR, and not to win a tournament! It is a shame that only Greg Snow, at position 1559, is the only Kenyan pro on the World Golf Ranking chart. This is because our players are not taking part in the numerous international golf events that can earn them points for listing on the OWGR.

The sponsor and player should then budget for the cost of backroom staff who will take the player through the paces for physical and mental conditioning, swing coaching, dietary requirements etc. It is not uncommon to hear winners at major golf events appreciating the work of their backroom staff. Golf is a team sport. The lone ranger tactics that our pros have been forced to embrace will not work!

The last, and most critical component in the sponsor-player engagement should be to settle on adequate facilities i.e. access to a good golf course, up-to-date playing equipment, modern gym, practice range, swing analysis equipment etc.

Some of the local pros who played in the Magical Kenya and Savannah Classic tournament

This blue print requires a minimum engagement of one season. With such an elaborate arrangement, the sponsor will be justified to expect a reasonable return on investment and not the traditional photo opportunities and banners that we are treated to yearly in the run up to Kenya Open. The player(s) under sponsorship will also be hard pressed to deliver on the course, not just to don the sponsor’s merchandise and fail to account for dismal performances.

Granted that the marketing budgets have been shrinking of late, corporates can still invest wisely in the professional golfers without signing long term budgets with individual players. For instance, why can’t the corporates known to sponsor players at Kenya Open pool their budgets at the beginning of the season and pay for some of the critical player development items highlighted above? It will add a lot of value if an international renowned Swing Coach were to be hired, using funds from the pool, and attached to the players for a month or two before Kenya Open. Why not pay for the local pros membership to a modern well-equipped gym where they have access to qualified instructors for a whole year? Why can’t the corporate sponsors purchase for our pros the latest golf clubs at the beginning of the season?

The possibilities are limitless if only we move away from the ad hoc sponsorship mentality that our players have been accustomed to in the run up to Kenya Open. The effort by our corporates in supporting the players is laudable. That close to Kshs 100 million is spent on the players to facilitate and motivate them annually is commendable. But for how long shall we continue doing the same thing for the pros every year while expecting different results?

“Motivating” pros with cash incentives before Kenya Open will not improve their performance.  We must abandon this “Simon Makonde” approach and embrace a systematic and long term engagement with the pros solely directed towards improving player management, physical conditioning and exposure.  Until then, don’t hold your breath, just keep enjoying the annual ritual of foreign pros trooping to Nairobi to share the hefty Magical Kenya prize money.  

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