Making history and inspiring a nation

Making history and inspiring a nation

Two feats, which took place five days and some 15,000km apart, delivered timely reminders as to why golf continues to appeal to the masses where accomplishments sprinkled with touches of inspiration and historical proportions proved that the true essence of our sport is alive and well.

In Los Angeles where the game's leading stars had gathered a fortnight ago for the Genesis Invitational, a tournament hosted by Tiger Woods, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama broke a personal psychological barrier by pulling off an historic triumph with a final round 62 which made him the winningest Asian-born golfer with nine PGA Tour titles.

The victory was worth a cool US$4 million but it truly wasn't on the 32-year-old's mind after he ended a frustrating two-year winless drought. For him, it was about earning a place in golf annals after wondering if he would ever hoist another trophy following a niggling neck injury.

A few days later in faraway Nairobi, another slice of golf history was being rewritten when a 31-year-old unheralded golfer, Ronald Rugumayo, became the first ever Ugandan to make the halfway cut in a DP World Tour tournament. The wild scenes around the 18th green and the welcome home celebrations showed what it meant for the game in that part of the world.

Rugumayo finished 71st in the Magical Kenyan Open where his achievement was certainly worth far more than the US$3,700 he earned as his magical run, forgive the pun, will resonate across in his native country and the African continent for years to come.

At a time when there is more money than ever in our sport and with the phrase "growing the game" in danger of being used too loosely, it is quite a relief, and yet an encouragement, to see an elite golfer in Matsuyama and a wannabe-star like Rugumayo being driven by much bigger causes.

After Matsuyama had surpassed compatriot Shigeki Maruyama, who is a three-time PGA Tour winner, the older Japanese told him that he needed to surpass KJ Choi of Korea, who was the leading Asian winner then with eight wins. In other words, Matsuyama was being told by his senior to chase golf history.

"After I won the fourth one, Shigeki told me, "hey, you've got to pass KJ Choi. I was very happy to do that and I'll definitely text Shigeki that I achieved this win," said Matsuyama. "Reaching nine wins was one of my big goals. After my eighth, I've been struggling with my back [neck] injury. There were a lot of times where I felt I was never going to win again. I struggled reaching to the top 10."

While a resurgent Matsuyama will continue his pursuit at rewriting more PGA Tour history, Rugumayo, in contrast, believes his fairy-tale run in Kenya will inspire others to follow in his footsteps and pick up the game. He rolled in a pressure-packed 10-foot birdie putt on his last hole in the second round to make the halfway cut.

"For everyone who is out there, who has a dream, please don't give up on yourself, believe in yourself and give it all you can. And for the man who wins is the man who thinks he can," said the Ugandan, who entered the week as the 2,901st ranked golfer in the world.

"I mean it's just a surreal experience. My dream after the Kenya Open is to inspire young people in Uganda to take up golf. Everything I post on social media, I always hashtag 'Golfing To Inspire'. A few years from now, I would like to see more Ugandans playing on this Tour. Not just Ugandans, but East Africans."

While there are over 2,300 golf courses in Japan as opposed to 20 in Uganda, the paths for Matsuyama and Rugumayo may never cross but with the same kind of passion and drive to chase golf history and inspire others to play the sport, thus grow the game in its truest essence, the duo provide enough reasons to die-hard fans that the game is on the right side of the fairway to a brighter and better future.

The writer is senior director, marketing and communications – APAC for the PGA TOUR and is based in Malaysia. Fans can watch the PGA TOUR on TrueSports 5.

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