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Lessons from the US Open and the Kenya Amateur Matchplay Championship

GOLF By Vincent Wang'ombe | September 18th 2020 | 3 min read
A worker prepares the scoreboard along the 18th green at sunrise prior to a practice round before the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. [AP Photo/Charles Krupa]

On 4th October 1895, one amateur and ten professional golfers gathered to play the inaugural US Open golf championship.

It was not a noteworthy event and very few golfers in the US paid attention to the event. When the 120th edition of the US Open is played this week, millions of golfers from all over the world will be following the happenings at the Winged Foot Golf Club in New York.

Back home, 1910 the European settlers started what was going to be an enduring event; the Amateur Championship. The most common format of play to determine champions in those days was match play and therefore it went without saying that this would be the way to determine the Kenyan top golfer.

The 97th edition of the championship started at the Vet Lab Sports Club yesterday, on the same day as the 120th US Open. The Kenya Amateur Matchplay championship has attracted a large field of golfers and the Kenya Golf Union has gone back to the way that the tournament was played in those early days; a strokeplay competition to determine the players who will eventually proceed to the matchplay knockouts.

There are a few parallels that can be drawn from the two tournaments. The first is that to grow the game, we must embrace the young golfers. This year, the US Open has a total of 13 amateur golfers. The youngest of the amateur golfers playing in the US Open is 18-year-old Preston Summerhays from the United States. The USGA is clearly looking at ways to encourage the youngsters to participate at the world’s biggest stage of the game.

The Kenya Golf Union, on the other hand, has been encouraging junior golfers to take part in all major events and has even created slots for the youngsters to take part in Safari Tour that is played by the professional golfers. There are 19 junior golfers taking part in this week’s competition.

The youngest of the amateur golfers taking part in the Kenya Amateur Matchplay Championship is 15-year-old Njoroge Kibugu. Mutahi Kibugu, Njoroge’s older brother, is one of the junior golfers who is tipped to win the tournament.

The 86th edition of the Kenya amateur match-play championship 2018 winner Daniel Nduva at Thika Green golf resort, June 17, 2018. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The other lesson from the Winged Foot Golf Club is on how not to set up a course for competitions. There were some reports that the greens at the course were running at about 12 feet on the Stimp Metre.

Now for those that may not know what this means; that is extremely fast. The average Stimp Metre reading of the golf courses in Nairobi is seven feet and it will be much less in the upcountry courses. There were videos circulating of practice day putts on the greens that were rolling back to the players.

The problem with very fast greens is that amateur golfers will tend to take longer on the course as they three and four-putt. The professional golfers thrive on very fast greens and it is tempting for golf captains to do the same during amateur competitions. This is one of the cases where the captains need the warning “do not try this at home.”

Thankfully, the chief referee for the Kenya Amateur Matchplay Championship, David Kihara, is a seasoned tournament administrator and will not be allowing such speeds at the Vet Lab Sports Club. He has also promised to put the tees a bit forward for the first day to allow for the large field of 100 players to get through the course twice.

Tiger Woods watches his shot from the third fairway during practice before the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. [AP Photo/John Minchillo]

-  Wang’ombe is General Manager of Kenya Open Golf Limited and Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Golf Union. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions of Kenya Open Golf Limited or the Kenya Golf Union.

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