Maahir Patel had a quality showing after 54-holes setting himself up against Jelani Kihanya aged 14 and went on to secure Limuru Junior Open title after a two-hole playoff on Sunday.
The 13-year from Muthaiga Golf Club held his grit throughout the three days firing rounds of 78, 80 and a final round 81 to dampen homeboy Jelani’s title pursuit.
Fatigued after self-caddying in the 72-hole Muthaiga Junior Open, and 55-hole Sigona Junior Challenge, most of the field in Limuru had the going tough navigating the lengthy par-72 course with slightly tricky pin positions on pretty fast greens.
“I was under real pressure, especially on the 18th where I bogeyed,” said Maahir “Lucky that I still made it into the playoffs. My caddy Jason showed me a good putt line and glad I sank it.”
Having started the final round with a five stroke advantage over Jelani who had 77+86 after day two, the duo were in contention for the main prize heading into the final round.
Already with his eyes set on securing a golf scholarship in South Africa, hopefully, Maahir had to prove his mettle on the grandest course by silencing his erstwhile opponent that Jelani was as he went on to win the prestigious title on the JGF calendar of events.
Playing in a flight behind Jelani, Maahir was 2-up heading into the 17th-hole nicknamed, “The Heartbreak Corner” which he birdied to maintain his pole position on the leaderboard.
Alongside another top seeded girl golfer, Bianca Ngecu who experienced bad breaks on the 17th and her putting made it worse ending up with a quick eight.
Unfortunately, for Maahir, he lost his tee shot on the par-five 18th into the woods from where he hit a stinger which landed under a tree with no clear shot to the green. He had to well out onto the fairway.
His fourth shot dropped into the bunker. With his emerging shot landing onto the fringe leaving himself with a tricky up and down putt.
He over borrowed but with the fast green, his firm putt went way past the pin leaving him with an uphill putt which, luckily he sank comfortably for a bogey save to force himself into the playoff.
Earlier, Jelani had evened the score with a birdie after finding the surface with his third shot as a legion of spectators who included Kenya Golf Union (KGU) Chairman Phillip Ochola, Junior Golf Foundation President Regina Gachora, KGU North Rift representative Moses Tanui and host Limuru Club Chairman John Keru among other guests watched and cheered him on from the terrace.
On the 19th hole, it was a seesaw as both hit stunning drives off the deck with Maahir going first off landing 61-yards short of the green while Jelani was 78-yards to the green.
Maahir lobbed it 20-feet way past the pin from where he made par as Jelani left his chip shot short for a two putt for par.
Back to the tee box and both blasting their tee-shots to around 50-yards to the green. Jelani’s chipshot trickled outside the green and he ended up with a par while Maahir emptied a five-footer for birdie to win the scintillating playoff and 2023 Limuru Junior Open title.
“I started the last day with a five shot deficit but bounced back with birdie, par, birdie which was a very good start and sailed on to the playoff which on its own was exciting for me!” said Jelani “It has been a long three days for me and walking back for the 20th hole seemed liked forever and the tension was even palpable but after all was said and done, there had to be a winner, Maahir was the man of the tournament. He is a solid golfer, he played well throughout!”
The future holds a lot of promise for the juniors according to JGF President's assertion in her speech and alot needs to be done to develop junior golfers as well as elite amateur closer home.
“We are in an advanced stage on discussions with Royal and Ancient (R&A) in setting up a high performance center where 20 of the crème de la crème of our top juniors will be absorbed into with their selection purely based on merit.” said Gachora, JGF President
Her sentiments were echoed by all the keynote speakers at the prize giving luncheon who highlighted the need to inculcate discipline and hard work in whatever one sets out to do so as to achieve the desired results.
“I loud and commend Limuru Junior Open competition committee for their exemplary organization and delivery of a world class championship towards the development of junior golf. We are grateful to Limuru Golf and Country Club fraternity.” Ochola KGU Chairman, observed
Adding, “The quality of junior golf has grown tremendously now that we have ten World Golf Ranking (WAGR) tournaments on our calendar from where we’ve continued to tap into the enormous talent that abounds among them. All I can say is the future of golf in Kenya is bright and greater things are coming.”
After the 2023 Limuru Junior Open, the youngsters take the back seat as they resume schooling but it will be interesting to watch how they compete once the next tournament resume!