As the Barclays Kenya Open celebrates its 50th anniversary this month we look back at some of the event’s key performances from the past five decades.
To start this series we caught up with Major Champion Trevor Immelman, whose first victory as a professional came in Nairobi back in 2000.
The South African was only 20 years old when he travelled to Kenya 18 years ago, just after he turned professional in 1999 – having already played in the Masters Tournament earlier that year after his victory in the 1998 U.S. Amateur Public Links.
Preparation was key for Immelman as he arrived at Muthaiga Golf Club nine days before the tournament began, allowing himself plenty of time to hone his skills ahead of his first ever Challenge Tour appearance.
“I remember it very clearly,” he said. “Four of us South Africans flew over together, stayed together, played all of our practice rounds together, and were probably there for nine days and had an amazing time.”
Immelman started strongly with a four under par 67 leaving him two off the first-round lead, before a second round 69 took him into a tie for fourth place - still two shots behind another future star, Henrik Stenson.
The Swede had narrowly missed out on a first European Tour card in 1999, both through the Challenge Tour Rankings and then at Qualifying School, but was exuding class in the Kenyan sunshine.
Immelman closed the gap on Moving Day, joining Stenson at the top of the leaderboard to set up a thrilling final day shoot-out, with the South African’s nerveless closing 67 proving too good and earning him a first Challenge Tour title by four shots.
“Winning in 2000 was a very a special moment for me,” he said. “I was just starting my career, I had only been a pro for six or seven months, so winning the Kenya Open really was a springboard for me.
“I have very, very fond memories. Especially being from South Africa, to win such a special event was a big moment for me.”
Stenson would recover from that disappointment to top the Challenge Tour Rankings at the end of the year, and the 2016 Open Champion has been on a steady ascent to the top of the world game ever since – the Swede has topped the Race to Dubai twice, won on the European Tour 11 times and formed part of two victorious Ryder Cup teams.
Immelman also graduated at the end of the season, finishing tenth in the Rankings to earn a European Tour card for 2001.
Three European Tour wins followed, before in 2008 he became the first, and only former Challenge Tour player to this day, to wear the iconic Green Jacket after holding off Tiger Woods to claim a three-shot victory at Augusta National.
Although injuries have largely plagued his professional career, there is little doubt the 38 year old has exceeded the expectations of any who witnessed him go head-to-head with Stenson down the stretch in Nairobi 18 years ago, and he fully acknowledges how special his Kenya win was.
“It was an exciting time in my lifetime and career,” he said. “I was a young 20 year old, just starting in the professional ranks and trying to find my feet so it was huge to get that first win under my belt.
“I remember when I was given the trophy I thought ‘they have had a lot of cool champions over the years’. I remember looking at the trophy and you had lots of Hall of Fame calibre players – so I thought that was a good sign.
“I am really excited that it’s their 50th anniversary this year. I hope they get a great turnout of players and I am sure that the tournament will continue to grow from strength to strength in the future.”