NAIROBI, Kenya, January 19- In his heyday, Moses Tanui was famed for showing world class runners a clean pair of heels in a chequered career that extended to 2004.
Having conquered international tracks and roads, the twice Boston Marathon champion and former world 10,000m gold medallist is keen to vanquish the greens and fairways in his newfound passion and sport, golf.
“The switch has been very good. In athletics, I finished my career and that was it but I took up golf through friends who encouraged me instead of staying at home, why don’t you take up golf?
“I did not know any other sport apart from football and volleyball which I used to play at school and after retirement, I could not go back to them. They gave me a club and when I hit the ball, I was not interested at first,” Tanui said.
Instead of the starting gun, Tanui now faces tee-offs having taken up the clubs in May last year and just like his running career, his adopted sport has registered significant progress, dropping down from handicap-28 to handicap-21 in seven months.
Tanui took to the practise range on May 16 and the whole new experience was at first strange but four days later, he decided he had enough of that and took to Eldoret Golf Club course.
“I was tired of the range and I told my caddie, can we go to the field? He accepted and we took to the course. For the next three days, I spent most of my time hitting the ball and looking for it, hit again, putt and from then, I got the interest,” he added.
Just like he crafted milestones in his distinguished running career, Tanui has opened new frontiers for the country’s running greats by making an impression in a sport deemed to be elitist in his nation.
“I got my handicap-26 on June 16, two months after I started playing. Being given 26 in two months from the men starting point of 28 was very interesting since I beat other golfers who have been playing at Eldoret Club for quite a while.
“I’m a competitor and my mind always gives me competition and I have dropped to handicap-21 in seven months. Even in golf, I want to compete with the best, like my friend Andrew Chelogoi who is handicap-3 and my aim is to become a scratch golfer in this country,” the 1991 Worlds winner continued.
Since then, he has not looked back as he seeks to make rapid steps that according to his mission will see him compete in the elite Golfer of the Year premier Kenyan circuit and the European Tour Kenya Open in the future.
The two-time Boston champ drew parallels between his latest dalliance and the sport that catapulted him from the backwater of Nandi to international acclaim.
“If you are not disciplined in athletics, you cannot enjoy an international career. In golfing if you are not disciplined, you cannot get give scores and you could be disqualified and people will not respect you.
“Discipline, concentrating on what you want to do and having your goals are the things one needs to become a good athlete or golfer.”
Tanui cited professional local golfer, Elisha Kasuku, a former race walker was an example that athletes can complete the switch.
Tanui has also adopted the mission to preach the gospel of his new sport to retired great distance runners like himself.
“Most people have branded retired athletes that they get lost in the villager, drink a lot or taking care of business. I would like to tell them this is not a sport for lazy people. It can give you good health, the opportunity to make different friends and helps you relaxed.
“Since I started playing some of my colleagues and other young men in Eldoret have taken up an interest. Golf in this country can change if the likes of (former world marathon record holder) Paul Tergat take up the sport.”
However, he acknowledges that his running career was the launch pad to his new found passion that featuring in is beyond the reach of majority of his compatriots.
Tanui’s highlight moment in his young golfing career was teeing off at Nairobi’s Muthaiga Golf Club, the country’s eminent golf course that is the home of the European Tour Challenge Kenya Open last Friday.
“I can say I’m a very lucky man because I was hearing of Muthaiga even when I was running and I could not come here and say, hi, I’m Moses! Playing at the richest golf courses in Kenya is a privilege.
“I could not have dreamed of this when growing up but through running, I have been able to get to this position. Runners are changing and soon, we shall see more get to golfing.”
The retired distance running great was among sporting icons that features in the first Athletes for Change charity golf event at the respected course whose patron is none less than the Head of State, President Mwai Kibaki.
The charity event that is set to go annual witnessed a field of over 70 golfers adopt the four-ball and three-ball team format in raising funds and awareness to support sporting development initiatives in Kenya.
A team from United States led by the PGA player, Phillip Winter and American businessmen took on their Kenyan counterparts as the inaugural event registered success.
Tanui carded a first nine score of six and a back nine return of 16 for a total of 22 stebleford points as he found the going hard in the tough pristine course. He teamed up with J. Tuwei, C. Kositany and A. Chelongoi.
Other notable Kenyan sporting legends involved in the Athletes in Action but did not tee off include five-time World Cross senior men titleholder and 1988 Olympics champion, John Ngugi, two-time World Marathon champion, Catherine Ndereba, former Harambee Stars captain, Musa Otieno and the country’s foremost lady golfer, Rose Naliaka.
Tanui retired as one of the most accomplished distance running stars in a career that spurned nearly two decades in the 1990s until he hung his spikes in 2004.
In his heyday, Tanui won 10,000m gold at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan and followed it up with silver two years later in Stuttgart where he controversially lost a shoe in a tangle with eventual champion, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie in the last lap.
Later that year, the Nandi born icon became the first man to run the half marathon in under 60 minutes when he clocked a then world record of 59:47 in Milan. In 1995, Tanui won the World Half Marathon title and added silver two years later at the same event.
He turned to full marathon running and in 1996; he won his first Boston title before adding a second crown in 1998 in his career best 2 hours 07 minutes and 34 seconds.
Tanui was third in the 2000 Chicago Marathon and in 2002, won the Vienna event before retiring in 2004 after competing at the Seoul Marathon when knee injury brought his glittering career to an end.
He owns a number of businesses in Eldoret town with the famed Grand Prix Hotel the flagship as well as being involved in various athletics events such as the annual Kass FM Marathon that runs in his home town.