For one year, Uganda’s top professional golfer today Ronald Rugumayo has been working on his game to play at the Magical Kenya Open, the most lucrative golf tournament in the region, reports MARK NAMANYA.
The Magical Kenya Open, which is entering its 56th edition at the par-71 Muthaiga Golf Course, tees off on Thursday with a number of renowned golfers from all over the world in Nairobi to compete in the DP Tour event.
With prize money at €1.75m (Shs 7bn), more than 150 golfers will be locking horns to make the cut on Friday. Prize money is shared amongst golfers who make the cut to play in the final two days of the event.
Today is the Pro-Am for the tournament, and Rugumayo will be among the professionals who will use the round as final preparation for tomorrow’s tee-off. Rugumayo qualified for this event at Muthaiga mid-last month after the final leg of the Safari Tour.
He qualified by occupying the top 10 slots of last year’s Uganda Open Pro-Am event at Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa. Rugumayo, the Tooro-born star, couldn’t have asked for better preparation.
His sponsors, ABSA bank, have ensured that he has first-class accommodation, a sufficient bank balance to be in the right state of mind, caddie fees and all the necessary logistics for a player who needs every bit of support ahead of the biggest tournament of his life.
Last year, when he played in his first Magical Kenya Open, Rugumayo, by his own admission, wasn’t ready.
“It was a learning curve for me in many ways,” the soft-spoken golfer recalled in a chat with The Observer two weeks ago.
“I didn’t know what golf at this level meant but right now, I am in a much better position.”
A huge contingent of golf enthusiasts has descended upon Nairobi to support Rugumayo, who has embraced the support of those who will follow his every shot.
“I am happy that there will be some Ugandans in Nairobi and I will use that to help me focus; I will put myself in a zone of Ronald and Rugumayo and play the best game I can to try, and make the cut.
“Contrary to some people’s fears, I will not be under pressure because of the Ugandans in the gallery; I will lock myself in the game and try to do well in the first two days.”
Last year, Rugumayo had a terrific opening nine holes before his game fell by the wayside. He intends to use the disappointment and frustration from then to do a lot better tomorrow.
“I have been in Kenya for more than a month now because I wanted to get to grips with the playing conditions and acclimatise to the weather.
“And right now, I believe I have.”
The other Ugandan golfers to have played the Magical Kenya Open before are Deo Akope and Philip Kasozi. None of them made the cut. Ashun Wu, last year’s winner from China, took home €2980,000 (Shs 1.17bn).
Wu, Spain’s Rafa Bello Cabrera, England’s Oliver Wilson, Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson and Robert Macintyre, another Scot, are among the big entrants in the competition. Rugumayo will be joined by Zimbabwe’s Visitor Mapwanya among the non-Kenyans who qualified via the Order of Merit in the Safari Tour.
Kenya will be represented by eight golfers at Muthaiga. They are Greg Snow, Samuel Njoroge, Dismas Indiza, Simon Ngige and Mutahi Kibugu. Others are Justus Madiya, Daniel Nduva and Mike Kisia.