In this week’s player blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Samuel Njoroge Chege talks about getting into golf, his unique swing, and what he’s learnt from playing alongside European Tour players.
I started playing golf when I was nine years old. My father introduced me to the game, but what I’ll say is that I’ve not come from a rich family to be here. I come from a poor background, and he was not earning a lot of money to enable us to study up to university. But he was working in a golf club so I would go there sometimes to see him, and that’s where I got my interest in golf, because I would see the members playing golf there.
I also used to read about this guy from England, Tommy Fleetwood, who came from a humble background but still made it to the top, and that encouraged me a lot in saying, no matter where I come from, I can do it and I can make it.
At the beginning I was teaching myself to play. I did not have a coach who was there teaching me, telling me this is how you are supposed to hit the ball, to chip like this or putt like this.
Because of this, my swing is very unique. I have a short backswing which so many people have told me is too fast and I have to change it. But I’ve stayed with it, because it works well for me. Many guys are telling me that I need to change my swing. And I am saying, the swing that you want me to change has done me well, and won me many events in Kenya. What I tell them is, I have to perfect it and master it and practice more and more. I trust my own swing.
I have also been lucky because there is someone who has come on board to support me – buying me clubs, supporting me financially to play the local events which have really helped to improve my game. So I am very happy and I thank God that they have come on board and supported me all the way up until now. But it's still very hard. I am still looking for a sponsor for my clubs or that can help support me financially with any tournament expenses, to be able to keep going.
I did have some success as an amateur. My first win as an amateur was in 2017 in my country, and I was very happy with that because I was able to join the national team. I played well on that team, and stayed on it for three years until I turned professional.
I was able to win major events here in Kenya, too. I was the top amateur here in Kenya for two years in a row. Then in 2018 I went up to Nigeria and I won the Nigerian Amateur Open and the Uganda Amateur Open also.
I’ve played two events outside of Africa. The first time was in Ireland in 2019, during the British Amateur. I went and played there, and I didn’t play that well but I enjoyed the experience, because at that time I was playing with top guys in the amateur ranks. I played alongside Akshay Batia who is now a PGA TOUR player, and I also played with the guy who won that year, James Sugrue, who has also played on the European Tour.
My other trip was at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters where I played in the amateur event to try and qualify for the main European Tour event, but unfortunately I did not qualify. I was happy with that experience though.
I wanted to turn pro in 2018, but my coach told me that I wasn’t ready. At that time I was playing off a plus two handicap. So we agreed with him that when I reach plus four, I would turn pro. I reached plus four at the end of 2019, so I was ready to turn pro, and then in early 2020 COVID came and the country went into lockdown, so there was no golf at all. It meant I had to wait until October when things opened up again, and I turned pro immediately.
When I turned pro, I started playing qualifying events to get into the Magical Kenya Open. It was not easy: They were my first events and so many people were telling me ‘you have to play well, you have to qualify for this event’ and I did it, and I feel very happy for that.
Last week was my first time playing on the European Tour as a professional. I would really like to thank the European Tour for giving us a chance to participate in these two events because here in Kenya some of us have never played the European Tour. Golf here in Kenya is big – here in Nairobi we have 15 golf clubs and you go there on the weekend and they are all full - but most of us have played here in our country only, or in local tournaments.
My first goal was to make the cut last week, which I achieved, so I was very happy and proud of myself. On that second day when I made the cut, so many people called me and said ‘our flag is flying with you now’, and ‘you are our hope now’ so that shows me that someday a door will open and maybe I will play this event again here in Kenya and also play more events outside Kenya.
The experience for me was very good because I was playing with top, top guys from the European Tour, and I’ve learned many things. One big thing I noticed is that their practice routine is different routine to ours. How they practice putting, chipping, irons and driving, it’s different from us and how we practice. After this event, I will work on those things to perfect my game.
My first goal now is this week, at the Kenya Savannah Classic. The layout here is good, the greens are great and very fair. The course is also in the right conditions, and if you swing it well you can score well on this course. Last week I had so many birdies but at the same time I also had so many bogeys too. For instance, the whole tournament I had 13 birdies and two eagles. But I had 17 bogeys, and I finished level par in total. So this week I’m trying to minimise mistakes and perform better than last week. I want to just make the cut and play well, because if I can play well maybe the European Tour can invite me to another event. I would be very happy to do that and to participate again.