If the intense competition displayed at the PGA Tour and the action at Muthaiga round of Safari Tour during the first week of February this year are indications of what lies in wait, then we are headed to an exciting 2021 golf season.
On that Sunday, two of golf’s superstars won in dramatic displays halfway opposite the planet from each other, both in the desert.
World number one, Dustin Johnson came from behind to win in the Saudi Arabian desert while Brooks Koepka did the same in the Arizona Desert.
The storm started gathering up the week before when Captain America, the indomitable Patrick Reed, rolled the faces of the other players in the dirt with a commanding five-shot win at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Reed’s win was even more significant because it was preceded by controversy about a free drop from an embedded ball that some players thought was not deserved.
Interestingly, a similar situation would arise the next day, this time with Rory Mcllroy.
With almost the entire top US PGA Tour seeking fortunes in the Saudi desert, the top field at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona was very shallow and was expected to be easy pickings for either Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas or Brooks Koepka.
But a surprise challenger appeared in the third round when Jordan Spieth shot an earth-shaking third round 61. This is the same Spieth who has not won a competition since The Open at Birkdale in 2017, four years ago.
That Open win seems to have hexed him and Karma has been at work. As I wrote then, Spieth did not deserve that win. He was indulged with an unprecedented twenty-minute delay, eventually leading to being granted a bizarre unplayable drop from the driving range being used as a Truck parking area at the 13th hole.
That range is usually Out of Bounds but had not been marked. That one favourable ruling may have led to Spieth winning the Open, and in effect robbing the ever-smiling Matt Kuchar off a deserved first major.
Going into the third round at Phoenix all eyes were on Xander Shaufelle who had played an incredible game. They did not notice Koepka had birdied five of his last six holes. He would shoot a back-nine 31 on Sunday, coming from five shots back to win. One would have thought it was vintage Tiger magic.
Over at the Royal Greens Golf Club in Saudi Arabia, Dustin Johnson came from behind to win the Saudi International for the second time in three years after shooting a 2-under 68 in the final round for a 2 strokes lead.
He had been so far back that some had written him off. That lesson again: four rounds of golf are a marathon, not a sprint.
The Saudi International is the last of three events that make up the “Gulf Swing” that launches 2021 on the European Tour. The next event is the Commercial Bank Qatar Open followed by the Magical Kenya Open both in March.
Unfortunately, all is not well with the local component of the Safari Tour. The results from the completed rounds do not offer any confidence that our Pros will perform any better than their below-par performance in the last twenty years.
It just might be the time to assess whether the goals of the Safari Tour are being achieved. The original idea was to run ten very competitive events that would give our Pros the real experience of performing under pressure.
Kenya Open Golf Limited would provide a million shillings for each of the ten events. This was not meant to replace their regular source of income but to serve as an incentive to play their best while seeking to qualify for the Kenya Open.
Unfortunately, the Pros seem to have focused on how they could earn that money as fast as possible with minimum effort. They proposed that the number of events be halved and the jackpot for the remaining event be doubled. They had lost the plot!
It didn’t help that a lot of mistrust and bad blood had developed between the PGK Pros and the Safari Tour Organisers.
It started with the Safari Tour making a unilateral decision to retain a quarter of the prize money. This decision was later rescinded but the deducted monies were never returned.
The Pros complained about the unfairness in the referees being shamelessly overpaid, each one more than nine of the top ten players. The Pros also detested not being represented on the organizing committee headed by amateur golfers.
The bad blood ultimately led to a boycott of the Tour’s fourth round at Sigona Golf Club last year by some PGK members, citing a Safari Tour management that was tone-deaf to their complaints and predicaments.
On the other hand, the Tour appears to be fighting back PGK’s blackmail strategy , one based on the assumption that without PGK , there is no Safari Tour. This was backed by the same arrogance and a misguided sense of entitlement that has seen PGK refuse to be under the Kenya Golf Federation.
They are wrong: PGK Pros are not the only Pros or the best golfers in Kenya. We now have elite amateurs, including women golfers, who are beating some of these Pros.
Jay Sadhu, the 2020 Kenya Strokeplay Champion floored the Pros at Muthaiga with an opening-round 68 none could beat. He finished 17th, not only making the cut but beating several Pros.
Our deluded Pros also need to be aware that the Safari Tour now includes Pros from other countries, among them Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia and Nigeria.
The Safari Tour management, obviously rookies at running a tour, are not skipping making every single mistake they can find as they learn. For example, introducing a Cut beats the intention of subjecting all the players to four rounds of competitive golf.
Inquiries sent to Kenya Open Golf Limited, Safari Tour and Professional Golfers of Kenya on the above issues received no responses.
On the amateurs’ front, the Kenya Amateur Golf Championship series kicked off with the Mount Kenya leg.
With a Sh22 Million sponsorship, NCBA have launched the 22-event amateur series that shall cover the entire country. The top five from each event shall qualify for the grand finale in December at Karen.
To discourage slot-hunting and ensure regional balance, each event is localized with entry only open to the members of that club.
The icing on the cake shall be a couple of 2-day junior golf clinics and competitions scheduled for August and December. For once, different formats of competitions shall be introduced for these young players other than just playing eighteen holes, among them skills competitions.
It’s all quiet on the local Ladies front after Covid ravaged their 2020 golf events that resulted in the KLGU leadership lobbying for a do-over, a repeat second term in office this year so they can prove themselves out.
KLGU intends to hold golf clinics for junior girl golfers during their regional events. We hope that some of the clinics will be in class, where the young golfers shall be taught golf rules and etiquette as well as the principles of honesty that are the pillars of golf.
The young golfers must be sensitized on the need to keep an eye on the play by the person they are marking and not just asking what she played and writing whatever score they are told.
Even more important is to be resolute and stand their ground when there is a discrepancy in what they counted and what the other golfer calls out. There are reports of some older lady golfers bullying the young kids to write lower strokes.
Sealing the Ladies calendar will be the LET Magical Kenya Open at Vipingo. Somebody please get hold of those Czech-American Korda sisters or Thai Jutanugarn sisters to grace this event!
Two pleasant surprises were announced last week: For us, the best is on a second European Tour Championship, the Kenya Savannah Classic, being added to the Calendar. It shall be held at the Karen golf course the week after the Magical Kenya Open Championship!
That is a double-header we should enjoy, but sadly, due to Covid protocols laid down by the European Tour and Minister Mutahi Kagwe’s Health ministry, there shall be no spectators at the two events.
But the event shall be Televised for viewers all over the world. Hopefully, the photography shall be improved compared to the 2019 inaugural event. Four ground-based cameras only are no longer unacceptable.
There are construction cranes available for hire, to provide wider views and angles. We even have drones available for hire. We should even have live internet streaming. Come on KOGL; we are talking of 2021, not filming the 1970 British Open!
The other surprise was the return to competitive golf of Ms.59, Annika Sorenstam. She is scheduled to play in an LPGA event for the first time after her retirement thirteen years ago. In her heydays, she was an absolute scoring machine.
She even took on the men in a PGA Tour event, from the back tees like our Naomi Wafula. Here is to a great 2021 golf year!
@pigamingi1, [email protected]