March 4, 2024

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Mutahi Kibugu: Believe you me, a local can win Magical Kenya Open

Local hero Mutahi Kibugu is still recovering after what is arguably his most successful week on the golf course. Having turned pro barely two years ago, Mutahi had an outstanding Magical Kenya Open debut where he was the only local player to make the cut, a feat that earned him Kshs 530, 000.

He spoke to T-OFF News on his experience and future plans.

This must have been a great week for you?

It was awesome. Playing alongside very experienced players on the DP World Tour like Oliver Bekker was so fulfilling. I actually learnt a lot from them.

Any specific lessons your picked?

Honestly there’s not much to learn in terms of swinging techniques, no. We are pretty okay in that aspect. A lot of work for these guys on European Tour is in the area of match preparation. For example, they do very few practice rounds before Thursday i.e. just play a nine-hole round on Tuesday and Wednesday but spend much more time on the practice range chipping and putting.

So how do these guys come here and dominate despite having little or no knowledge of the course?

Let me tell you, having a good caddie is key. And I mean a very knowledgeable caddie. This is one aspect of the game we don’t take very seriously here. You see, while the visiting players were busy on the practice range, their caddies spent the better part of Tuesday and Wednesday traversing the course and making notes. With this kind of team work, I assure you the course becomes less daunting. I was very lucky to have (pro) Edwin Mudanyi on my bag. We have good chemistry dating back from our days in the amateur national team.  

Mutahi Kibugu celebrates after making birdie on no.18 during the second round

Your most outstanding moment at Magical Kenya Open 2023?

It is definitely my birdie putt on number 18 at the close of the second round. I had just dropped two shots on the par-3 number 16 which meant I was sitting dangerously above the cutline. So draining that long part was just unbelievable more so in front of the ecstatic crowd. I shall forever replay that moment in mind.

Were you surprised when you made the cut?

Absolutely not! In the run up to this event I kept telling everyone that my target was to finish in the top 20. I was in great form before the tournament and I really believed in myself. If you go to such a huge event with a lowly target of just making the cut, chances are you won’t make it. You must set the bar high enough and work very hard towards grinding out a result

So what hampered you from attaining your top-20 finish target?

Well, a combination of several factors. If you followed me closely you realize that I was unlucky on the putter as quite a number of shots just failed to drop in. But hard luck aside, there are some aspects of my game that I really need to work on. I need to hole more putts and improve on scrambling around the green to save shots. Whilst I am very good off the tee, I need to improve my accuracy on the approach shots. This is the only way you give yourself a chance of making many birdies on the course. All I can promise you is that it will be great fun at next year’s Magical Kenya Open.

With only one player making the cut at every tournament since Magical Kenya Open became a European Tour event, is there any justification for the locals clamour for more playing slots?

There’s no doubt that the success rate of the local players is dependent on the number of slots that  we are allocated. For example, in this week’s DP World Tour event (SDC Championship) in Cape Town there are more than 70 South Africans in the field. With such a huge number perhaps about 20 will make the cut while close to 50 will miss out. So I believe the more local players we have at Magical Kenya Open, the higher the chances that a good number will make cut.  The bottom line is; you need a higher representation to get a better cut percentage.

At this rate will a local ever win Magical Kenya Open?

Yes, it is very possible. However, we must get our fundamentals right. We have very good talent in the current crop of pros while the amateur ranks are equally well endowed. The work that is going at junior golf level is equally amazing so the talent pipeline is really promising. But lack of events at the pro level is very worrying. There’s no motivation at the moment for juniors and elite amateurs to turn pro. Unless we invest in the pro sport so that we have a minimum of 15 events per year, it is very difficult for us to match the seasoned pros on the European Tour.

You got the better of your kid brother Njoroge this year. Was your performance motivated by sibling rivalry?

We rarely get a chance to play in the same competition so Magical Kenya Open was a perfect opportunity for us to settle the debate of who is the better player between us. I am happy that I settled this argument pretty well and the young man now has a lot of respect for his elders.

So what next for you?

I am heading to South Africa this week where I plan to play in three events in the next four weeks. Two of these will be at a lower level on the Sunshine Tour while the other one will be a qualifying school tournament as I try to get promotion to the elite level next year.  

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