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Erick Ooko thanked Vision 2030 for coming to their rescue in sponsoring the local pros ahead of their bubble camp as they prepare to compete in the upcoming two European Tours. Photo/FRANCIS MBATHA

Golf

From a caddie to Kenya team mainstay, Ooko craves European Tour success

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 15 – Ever wondered why caddies produce some of the finest professionals and single-handicap amateurs in the country and globally?

And how about caddies playing better golf than the club members who happen to be their clients on the course?

Well, Golf Park pro Eric Ooko has answers to many of these questions touching on caddie life and stardom.

As a humble caddie at Golf Park in 2009, Ooko rose from obscurity to an amateur of national repute. Today, the 32-year-old has built a reputation for excellence and is amongst the top 12 golfers who will represent the country at the 2021 European Tour Magical Kenya Open and the Kenya Savannah Classic at the Karen Country Club.

The players will report bubble camp on Tuesday.

Ooko is also among the top five professional golfers in the country who ply their trade on the prestigious Safari Tour.

He thanked Vision 2030 for coming to their rescue in sponsoring the local pros ahead of their bubble camp as they prepare to compete in the upcoming two European Tours.

“I take this opportunity to thank the Kenyan Government for coming on board to support local pros, this is one of the most important thing to us players because we have never had such opportunities before but now there is some  good progress one can pay accommodation and cater for his meals, this are the basic needs we always require when we go for big tournaments like this,” Ooko remarked on the Sh3 million sponsorship that Vision 2030 handed the 12 Kenyan pros and three regional players.

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Here is what the soft-spoken pro had to say when we asked about the magic wand caddies have in play.

“Caddies spend much time on the course as opposed to club members. They also play a pivotal role in imparting the much-needed technical finesse to the member and guest golfers and even guide them through various facets of the game including the choice of golf clubs like irons, sandwiches and wedges.

Caddies also savour the opportunity to play among themselves on Mondays to ensure that they don’t become rusty. What’s more, caddies play in organised tournaments to try and gauge their quality of goodness on the course,” he narrated.

He added; “The best golfers in the world ply their trade on the PGA Tour and make lots of money from playing. And behind every great golfer is a great caddie who carries the golfer’s bag of clubs, cleans the clubs and balls, makes the bunkers and sand traps easier to play in by raking them. The caddies measure the distance to the pin, remove the pin in the hole and are like equipment managers and trainers.”

So how did Ooko’s career flourish in the noble game of golf?-

Ooko started playing the sport at Golf Park in Nairobi’s Racecourse way back in 2009 as a caddie. He used to caddie for veteran Jacob Okello in the Kenya Open and at various pro events.

“I have had a dream that in the next five years to come I will be a regular in the  European Tour where I will have the chance to brush shoulders with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Brooks Koekpa – because we know we can do it with support from sponsors and more play time. Though I know I’m not that young, we just need to focus and practice very hard and Dona lot of Tour golf.”

“I was introduced into golf by one of my friends who was working in the pro shop. I started as a caddie at Golf Park near Karen Country Club in 2009. I got my first handicap in 2009 (handicap 19) and that’s how I got interested in golf a lot more. I played in amateur tournaments between 2009 and 2014.”

“In 2010, I finished number 2 as amateur in Sigona Bowl which was a round of the Golfer of the Year series (now KAGC). In 2011, I finished number 2 on Muthaiga Open and also finished number 4 on Uganda Open as amateur.”

“In 2012 I won Jamii Telecom in Karen as an amateur where I was the best amateur.

In 2013 I also won several tournaments at Royal Nairobi Golf Club. Then in 2014 I was the best amateur in the country. I also represent Kenya down South in Cape Town for the African Zone Six whereby I was named the best amateur and won all my games.”

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Professional experience

Ooko turned professional in July 2014 after he returned from Cape Town.

“As a professional, I won the first tournament in Eldoret which was sponsored by the Nation Media Group. In 2015 I joined the Sunshine Tour which is the big deal in South Africa. The same year I played a lot of Sunshine Tour events in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.”

In 2016, Ooko played a lot of tournaments outside Kenya as Sunshine Tour member and even in the Kenya Open which was then a Challenge Tour event.

“In 2017 I joined the West African Golf Tour. In 2018 I played many tournaments in South Africa, Zambia, Uganda and indeed the Kenya Open. In 2019 I played in the Kenya Open and I also Malawi Open. Through Safari Tour I am now ranked among the top player in East and Central Africa.”

Ooko reveals that professional golfers in Kenya have been struggling with sponsorship.

“With Safari Tour now taking deep roots in the region, we have an opportunity to compete prize money on a regular basis. I used to caddie for someone by the name of Mutua Gathendu who supported me big time. He is the one who made me take my golf to the next level. Caddies go through a lot of challenges, but God is always great that they get through,” Ooko revealed.

“Being a professional golfer in the region is one of the hardest things given that you become an independent person whereby you pay for everything you do on the course. And if you don’t play well you go home empty handed. So, you have to play well to attract Corporate sponsorship. I have a course record at Royal Nairobi where I short 12 under par on 18 holes.”

During his spare time, away from the fairways, Ooko spends much time on the pool table. He also likes dancing.

FACTFILE

ERIC OOKO OBURA

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Date of Birth: 16th January 1989

Club: Golf Park

Lives in: Nairobi

Professional debut: 2014

Amateur Career: 2009 to 2014

Caddie Career: 2009-2011

CAREER ACHIEVEMENTS

  1. 2010: 2nd overall Sigona Bowl.
  2. 2011: 2nd Muthaiga Open
  3. 2012: Best amateur Jamii Telecom Tournament at Karen Country Club
  4. 2014: Represented Kenya in African Zone VI
  5. 2015: Joined the Sunshine Tour
  6. Current Safari Tour Ranking: 5th
  7. 2019/20 Safari Tour Ranking:

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