When one thinks of golf, most often than not, what comes to mind is that it is an expensive sport that is only open to the well to do. However, that is not always the case as there are those who have managed to excel at this game despite not coming from well off backgrounds just by sheer hard work and grit.
We had a chat with a pro golfer and kids trainer Paul Muchangi about his golfing journey and the Safaricom Golf Tour. This is what he had to say;
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Paul Muchangi, I am a pro golfer and part of the Kenya team. Other than that I am a US certified kids coach who is currently training over 40 kids at Limuru Country Club some of whom are participating in the Safaricom Golf Tour.
What inspired you to start playing golf?
My golf journey started out in 2007 after I had finished high school. This is when I started working at Limuru Country Club as a caddie. For those who may not know, a caddie is the person who carries the clubs for the golfer. It was during this time that I fell in love with the game and the opportunities that it offered. There and then I made a decision to learn how to play it by hook or crook.
Being that I could not afford a coach, I decided to train myself by watching what golfers were doing on the course. With my meagre earnings as a caddie, I bought my first golf club, a sand wedge for Ksh. 1,000 and about 50 balls which were about Ksh. 50 each. The club that I managed to get was right handed yet I am a leftie, but I did not allow this fact come in my way.
The other challenge that I faced was the fact that as a caddie, we were only allowed to play on the course on Mondays. However, I knew that if I wanted to improve, I needed to train on a daily basis. To counter this, I came up with a plan to start practicing at an open field near my home. With the issue of the training grounds sorted, I started practicing for four to five hours every day before going to work as a caddie.
After, training for about two years, I felt that my game had improved considerably to an extent that could start competing. This is when I started playing in the caddie tournaments and surprisingly I always emerged among the winners.
When did you decide to start playing golf professionally?
The fact that I was playing in the caddie tournaments and winning is what gave me the courage to go to the next level which was playing it at the pro level. At the time, the golf series was called the Gotty.
However, due to financial constraints, I could only play in the tournaments around Nairobi. At these tournaments I used to caddie for myself since I could not afford to pay for one but I did not let this deter me and as a matter of fact, I used to emerge as one of the best players.
It was this good performance that made me get noticed by the board of Limuru Country Club. I have to say that this is when my hard work started paying off in that not only was I given club membership but also a full set of golf clubs.
Looking back, I think that this was the turning point in my golf career because, not only did I have full set of left handed clubs, I could also be able to train at the course any time I wanted. This served to encourage me to work even harder and within one year, I had been invited to join the Kenya team.
How many trophies have you won since you started playing?
So far, I have won about five trophies that is Limuru Open, Karen Challenge, Kenya Amatuer Championship, Nyanza Open. I have also emerged second on two occasions at the Uganda Open.
What is your handicap?
My handicap at the moment is zero since I have not been playing in tournaments due to Covid-19. My decision to fully concentrate on being a kids coach has also meant that I have not managed to play as much.
However, by the time I was playing the Kenya Open last year, my handicap was at negative two. As a comparison, when Tiger Woods started playing professionally, he was negative five.
How would you say that golf has changed your life?
I have to say that golf has really changed my life for the better in so many ways. This is because, when I started out as a caddie, I used to be paid about Ksh. 700 per day which is not a lot of money. However, since I started to play the game professionally I have been able to make a good living both from winning at the tournaments and as a kids coach. I have also get a chance to interact and network with many influential people which has opened doors for many opportunities. Other than that, I have gotten an opportunity to travel to different countries in Africa to play golf.
What inspired you to become a golf coach?
When I started winning at tournaments, I always used to think to myself what I would have achieved had I started playing earlier. Based on what I had been able to achieve within a short period of time, I felt that if I started playing golf as a child, I would have been good enough to play in the big international tournaments like the PGA Tour.
This is what inspired me to take up the coaching course so that I could share what I had learned over the years with the juniors. I am doing this because I believe that these juniors can be able to take the game to the next level. It is my hope that I can be able to open a golf academy in the country at some point in the future.
As I said earlier, I am training Limuru Country Club juniors who are about 40 in number. I am happy to report that some of them are already winning in the Safaricom Golf Tour.
As a matter of fact, those who won in the third leg of the tour held at Muthaiga Golf Club includes Ethan Wachira 6yrs, Chris Ihugo 9yrs, Muriithi Gatu 9yrs, Ethan Mbogo 11yrs and Mathew Mbogo 15yrs.
Tell us about your golf training at Limuru Children’s Home?
For the longest time, people have had the notion that golf is for the well to do in the society. However, this is not a fact because just like any other sport, hard work and resilience is what will make a difference in whether you succeed and not what is in your pocket.
Being that the kids in Limuru Children’s Home are generally orphans, I decided to work with them as a way of inspiring them to work hard for a better future. One of the first things that I did when I started working with them was to share my life story. This is because I felt that if they could see where I started out and where I have reached so far, they would be inspired to work with me.
This seems to have worked in that I managed to get 20 kids who are interested in playing golf. For the time being we are training in a field at the home but I hope that we can be able to use a golf course one day.
Do you think that Safaricom Golf Tour will be able to achieve its objective of promoting golf in the country?
Definitely, this is because I think that juniors tournament is a very good foundation for our young players. This is because it will help us identify the best juniors in the country and it will also prompt their parents to start paying attention to how they are playing as well as investing in them. I do believe that we will be able to see the results in a few years when we see that the number of professional golfers has gone up as well as the quality of the game.
What message do you have for young people who are aspiring golfers
I would like to tell them that golf is not a difficult game and all that one needs is passion and hard work. Also, that we are going to take the game of golf to the next level with the help of Safaricom and other entities.