Uganda golf comes of age as youth team hits world stage
- Written by MARK NAMANYA
Few games get your heartbeat racing like golf. This particular scenario is worse when the version of the game involves a team like was the case at the All-Africa Junior Team Championship that concluded at the par-72 Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa last week.
Uganda’s junior boys team led by captain Reagan Joseph Akena also had Juma Abiti, Ibrahim Ssemakula and Abdul Kakeeto. For three rounds, the team struggled. Before an impressive gallery, the best scores of day one for Team Uganda were 74, 78 and 80 for an aggregate of 232.
On day two, the aggregate tally fell down to 240 after rounds of 80 and 82 for Kakeeto and Akena respectively. Abiti shot 78. Day three was the worst after Uganda’s best three scores tallied to 242.
The All-Africa Junior Championships consider the three best scores of the four players representing a country on any given day.
For Uganda to redeem themselves, it meant that coach Flavia Namakula had to deliver the pep talk of her life to inspire the team into a magnificent final round to save Uganda’s Championship.
Through three days, Uganda was occupying fourth position and needed a minor miracle to qualify for the World Junior Team Championship due in Japan in late June. South Africa were already out of sight for all competing countries with a team score of 637. Zimbabwe and Kenya followed on 709 and 713 respectively.
It meant that Uganda, who were sitting in fourth position on 714, needed a solid round from all its four representatives to reach the World Junior Team Championship.
Captain Akena chose the perfect day to play his best golf of the tournament after carding a one-over-par 73. But it wasn’t only him. Juma Sabiti matched his day three score of 76, his joint-best round in the competition, while Ibrahim Ssemakula shot 77.
Kakeeto’s 79, which wasn’t enough to be considered on the day, was his best round at Serena. The 226 on the final day was precisely what the doctor ordered for it enabled Uganda to leapfrog Kenya and Zimbabwe enroute to finishing in second position behind the impregnable South Africa.
Uganda edged Zambia and Zimbabwe by four and five strokes respectively to ensure that it would not be a disappointing tournament for the host country.
“We had a healthy discussion after the third round,” a visibly elated coach Namakula observed after the tournament.
“I am happy for the qualification to the Junior World Cup but now the honeymoon is over and the hard work begins in earnest.
“We want to leave an impression in Japan, and not travel and arrive as tourists.”
Namakula is similarly aware that events of this nature are in all likelihood learning experiences and she is hoping that the boys learn and better their all-round game when the World Cup happens regardless of how they score in Japan.
Fourteen countries took part in the Boys tournament. The other nations were Gabon, Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania, Mauritius, Egypt, Tunisia and Namibia.
In the girls category, Uganda finished a decent fourth behind winners South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. While the top two countries in the male category advance to the World Cup, the female category has only one slot – for the winner.
That means South Africa’s boys and girls will travel to Japan as champions of Africa along with Uganda. Mehta Golf Club in Lugazi produced the bulk of Uganda’s national junior team. Akena, Ssemakula and Abiti are all attached to it while Kakeeto is from Tooro Golf Club in Fort Portal.
For the girls, Frista Birabwa and Vivian Achen are products of Entebbe Golf Club while the third member of the national team Winnie Musuya is a Mehta Golf Club protégé.
The 2023 Toyota Golf World Cup will be held between June 20 and 23.