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Kenyan Open Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 11 Mar 2019 | Comments

THE second new event of the European Tour season takes place with the Kenya Open following the successful, but controversial, Saudi International, which was won by Dustin Johnson. Following the tournament’s continued success on the European Challenge Tour for the past 25 years, the Kenya Open will see an elevated prize purse of €1.1 mi at the Karen Country Club in Nairobi. It has to be said that it will not be boasting the same strength of field that was seen in Saudi Arabia, when many of the world’s top players were enticed to take part.

For all that, the Kenyan Open boasts a long and proud history. Before joining the Challenge Tour schedule in 1991, it witnessed some memorable winners, including the late Seve Ballesteros and fellow Masters champion Ian Woosnam.

Ben Cowen, the European Tour’s Director of International Policy, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Kenya Open Golf Championship to the European Tour in 2019 and we look forward to building on the esteemed reputation the tournament has already developed as one of the Challenge Tour’s leading events. We are excited to continue our work with Kenya Open Golf Limited and the Government of Kenya, who have been valued supporters of this tournament on the Challenge Tour for many years, and again now as it starts a new chapter on the European Tour.”

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Kenya Open since its inception in 1967, with Italy’s Lorenzo Gagli joining the illustrious list of champions, and the event is expected to draw the interest from across the globe and further boost the country’s sports tourism offering.

Peter Kanyago, KOGL Chairman, said: “I am pleased to announce the Kenya Open Golf Championship, having been ascertained to attain the requirements to join the European Tour, has officially received the European Tour status and will be part of the worldwide golf circuit starting next year.

“We are delighted to have achieved this milestone as we believe it will propel the Kenya Open Golf Championship to the next level as we embark on this new phase of the tournament. As result of the support by the Government and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the total prize fund for the tournament will more than double from €500,000 to €1.1 million. We believe that the tournament will attract a higher caliber of top players from across the globe – further raising the profile of the event.”

It is a pretty weak field, but that offers some great opportunities for players who have been struggling. It also provides an opportunity for somebody to secure a two-year exemption. 

It would also be a good week for Erik Van Royen, who possesses one of the sweetest swings on the European Tour, to turn potential into delivery. He is one of the most accurate drivers of a ball in the game and possesses a beautiful short game.

There will be a lot of attention on Ho-sung Choi, the South Korean whose unorthodox swing has helped to turn him into an internet sensation. The South Korea became a social media star after footage of his “fisherman’s swing” was widely shared online. The 45-year-old, who taught himself to play golf after reading about the game in magazines, is well-known for his theatrical swing, but also has three worldwide titles to his name – including the Casio World Open which he won in Japan last year.

What makes Choi’s swing so unique is his follow-through, where he lifts his right foot off the ground and swings it around his body before using one of several different finishing moves.

“I can’t wait to compete on the European Tour,” said Choi, who currently sits just outside the top 200 in the world and has played a total of nine European Tour events dating back to 2009. “I came to golf later in my life, at the age of 25, after some tough experiences. I’m hugely grateful for the opportunity to play golf around the world, and I am fully aware that none of this would be possible without the love and support of my fans. I have never been to Africa, but I have heard great things about Kenya and the golf courses there – I can’t wait to test myself against the European Tour players again.”

“We are delighted to have Ho-sung Choi grace the Kenya Open presented by Absa,” said Kanyago. “His unique style of play appeals to numerous audiences around the world, capturing the attention and imagination of both golfers and non-golfers. It is pleasing to note that ardent followers of his distinct style, from across the world, will get to experience the magic of Kenya by following him in action at the tournament.”

Not that the players will have much time for sightseeing, but It is worth taking some time to look at what Nairobi has to offer. It may surprise you to learn that there are seven 18-hole golf courses within a 20-mile radius of the city. Among these are the historic Royal Nairobi Golf Club, which is one of Kenya’s oldest courses, first established in 1906. Since 1967, Muthaiga Golf Club has been the home of the Kenya Open, although this year it moves to Karen Country Club.

It is the only capital city in the world with a national park within its boundaries, making it a prime tourism destination. Located only seven kilometres from Nairobi’s city centre, Nairobi National Park covers 12,000 hectares that boast a diversity of environments with a wide variety of fauna and flora, stretches of bush country with long grass as well as deep rocky valleys and gorges.

The animals that can found in this park include black and white rhinoceros, diverse birds, lions, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, buffalos, zebras and hippos. Only in Nairobi can you share breakfast with a herd of giraffes at the Giraffe Manor located in the southern suburb of Nairobi.

Nairobi is also home to several museums, historic sites and monuments. The Nairobi National Museum, which is located close to the Central Business District, has a collection of artefacts that document and present Kenya’s past and present cultural and natural heritage. It also has an exclusive exhibition for the Birds of East Africa. Different aspects of Kenyan culture are on display at the Bomas of Kenya. Here, one has a chance to see the rich and diverse cultural values of various tribal groups of Kenya through arts and craft, music and dance.

For those who enjoy art, visit the Murumbi Collection at the Nairobi Gallery that hosts a personal collection of the late Joseph Murumbi, former Vice President and curator of African heritage. The gallery is housed in an old colonial building that is fondly referred to as ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ because of the births, marriages and deaths that were recorded there.

Nairobi’s wealth of artistic talent is finally getting the recognition and attention it deserves. Cultures marry in paintings, music, literature, food and dance.

Nairobi’s night scene is also one to watch. Food and drink is evolving as the city grows. Here, you will find East Africa’s first microbrewery housed in a swanky brasserie with an impressive array of continental dishes and fine whiskies.  At 6pm every day, a champagne ritual sets off at the Champagne Bar in The Sankara. As the name suggests, it is all about champagne cocktails prepared by the resident mixologist. Barely a five-minute walk away is The Alchemist, an outdoor space that blends music, food, fashion and art. In other words, Nairobi has something for everybody.

To Win:

Erik Van Rooyen. Sweet-swinging South African

Each Way:

Haydn Porteous. Why hasn’t this boy won a bucketload of events?

Fantasy Picks:

Erik Van Rooyen. Should win two or three times a year

Haydn Porteous. Too inconsistent

Shubhankar Sharma. Looking to rediscover his 2018 form

Renato Paratore. Has the game to become a regular winner

Ricardo Gouveia. Still trying to emerge as a superstar from Portugal

Oliver Wilson. Trying to keep his tour card this time

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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