Despite spending the week re-decorating his house several thousand miles away in Austria, Markus Brier’s German caddie Max Zechmann will take a keen interest in this week’s Barclays Kenya Open – and in particular the exploits of home hero Ali Kimani.
In 2006, word reached Max via Dr John Pates – a sports psychologist whose clients have included Ian Woosnam, Thomas Björn, Darren Clarke, and Graeme McDowell – that the Kenyan youngster was showing some serious signs of potential.
Max promptly contacted Ali, offered him and a friend the chance to fly over to Austria and even opened his doors to the duo, along with young Zimbabwean Marc Cayeux, to give both players the chance to expand their golfing horizons.
Despite having never left his native Kenya before, the 23 year old was keen to grasp the opportunity and so packed his bags for a European odyssey which would take in tournaments on the satellite Alps Tour.
Though clearly out of his comfort zone, the softly-spoken Kenyan started to adapt to his new life and made quite an impression on the members at Max’s local club, as the man himself recalled.
“We took Marc and Ali for a practice round one day,” said Max, “and they only used one club each – Ali a seven iron, and Marc a six iron.
“Despite that Marc shot two over, and Ali shot four over – the members couldn’t believe their eyes! For such a wiry frame Ali could hit the ball miles, and although he was obviously still quite raw, I was impressed by what I saw.”
Soon afterwards Max managed to get Ali an invitation to play the MAN NÖ Open on the Challenge Tour, and also arranged for a high-profile member of the caddying fraternity to carry his clubs.
He said: “Pete Coleman, who worked with Bernhard Langer for many years, kindly agreed to caddie for Ali, which was really good of him – especially as it was the week of The Open Championship, and a few of the guys playing there had asked if he’d work for them. Unfortunately Ali missed the cut, but it was still a great experience for him. I don’t think Pete enjoyed it as much, mind – the course is one of the hilliest in Europe, so I think it helped to end his caddying career prematurely!”
After some mixed results on the Alps Tour, Ali eventually decided to return to Kenya, partly because he was feeling homesick and partly also due to visa issues.
But the two men stayed in regular contact, and the following year Ali returned the favour and invited Max over to Kenya to watch him compete in the Barclays Kenya Open.
“Ali comes from a big family,” said Max, “and they couldn’t have been any more gracious or welcoming.
“We had a great time, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since, mainly through facebook. I was absolutely delighted for Ali and his family when he played so well to lead the tournament after two rounds last year, even though he wasn’t able to keep it going over the weekend.
“It was a shame things didn’t quite work out as we’d planned when he came over to Europe, but obviously it was wasn’t meant to be. It was difficult for him to settle, and I understood his reasons for going back. I wish him all the success in the world this week and in the future – he’s a very good golfer and a lovely guy, so he really deserves it.”