‘I could have been as good as McIlroy’

HARARE - Local professional golfer Julius Kamalizeni says he could have been as good as World Number One Rory McIlroy had it not been for Zimbabwe’s “inefficient” golfing system.

A relatively late bloomer, a then 33-year-old Kamalizeni was the toast of the opening round of the World Amateur Team Championships, the Eisenhower Trophy in Stellenbosch, South Africa back in 2006.

The Harare-born former caddie was three-under par through nine holes, in a fairy tale opening nine that captured the world’s imagination with a hole in one.

Quickly, reporters were scrambling for his attention in an illustrious field that included a then 17-year-old McIlroy.

“A whole lot of guys who are now on the PGA tour were in that field,” recalls Kamalizeni.

“I remember being three-under-par on my opening nine. At one stage I was four under, at the very top of the leader board against some of the world’s best golfers.

“I suppose the euphoria got to me. I dropped two shots. I faltered as the game progressed. But I still gave a good account for myself.”

Kamalizeni was part of the Zimbabwe team which comprised Brian Gondo, Mairosi Katembenuka and was captained by former Harare Mayor, Muchadeyi Masunda.

In the end, the locals finished in 43rd place at Stellenbosch.

That bright spark dimmed as soon as it had flickered as Kamalizeni went on to turn professional that same year.

However, his mind was never centred on the greens but always concerned about sourcing funds which have remained scarce throughout his career.

He was obliged to take part in at least 80 percent of the Sunshine Tour events as a condition for earning a Tour card, but it was not possible as he could not finance all the trips.

Unlike then Boy Wonder McIlroy, who nine years later has rose to become World Number 1 winning multiple major championships, Kamalizeni never again scaled the heights his potential deserved.

“I eventually turned pro but our pro tour has never given us local guys the platform to express ourselves,” he says.

“So you can see the road we are walking on is different. While I had to walk on a rocky road others were fortunate in that all they had to do was to concentrate on playing golf and everything else was done for them.

“If I had played having the same level of support with Rory, why couldn’t I have been up there with the best?

Turning to the state of golf in the country Kamalizeni’s heart bleeds.

“It doesn’t cost much to help these youngsters to go far but there is no one creating the platform.

“For upcoming golfers the sport has become a family sport. If you have money to pay through tournaments that’s the only way you might make it.

“But for those with little funding their talent is going down the drain. It’s painful where are we going.”

Now 43, the man nicknamed “Shoes” juggles his time between playing golf and coaching juniors, hoping to impart his knowledge in junior golf development.

But with Zambezi Tour tournaments few and far between and junior players needing to use their own resources to fund their way through tournaments that enable them to get national selection, Kamalizeni feels it will take something special for talented golfers from humble backgrounds to emerge from the rubles and scale dizzy heights.

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