Cwinyaai salvages national pride with Open triumph

Champagne moment. Cwinyaai (left) is showered with drinks after decisive putt. PHOTO | EDDIE CHICCO

What you need to know:

  • In the previous three editions, the handicap +2 player had come so near with fifth (2018) and two fourth-place (2019 and 2020) finishes. 

For long periods, lifting the 80th Tusker Malt Uganda Amateur Golf Open at the par-71 Entebbe Club seemed to be a really impossible task for pundits' pick Joseph Cwinyaai.

He had trailed by five or four shots for towards and past the halfway stage of the show and understandably, human nature had pushed many write him off by the time defending champion Kenyan John Lejirma led going into the final day.

But, Cwinyaai fashioned the class of a champion to emerge from the shadows and clinch the Open title by three shots after near-perfect final round of three-under 68 on Saturday.

“This has been a wonderful journey,” a thrilled Cwinyaai, after finishing with an aggregate score of 287 gross over 72 holes, said upon picking his trophy from Uganda Golf Union (UGU) president Moses Matsiko and Uganda Breweries Limited Supply Chain director Alfred Balikagira.

In the previous three editions, the handicap +2 player had come so near with fifth (2018) and two fourth-place (2019 and 2020) finishes. Probably, it could have even been better had his father Seargent Samson Keuber Palyel had not passed away four months ago.

But sensing how far he’d come, the pundits’ local favourite Cwinyaai did not have room to look over spilled milk especially after he had struggled with club selection in the opening rounds of 75 and 73.

“It has been knocking on the door for the past three years,” he said, “I dedicate this to my late father and Ronald Otile who spoke to me before the final round.”

“I had to first set my pace because I have always lost it on Day One. On Day Two, I was five shots off the lead but I shot two shots better with 73 but I was chasing six strokes on Day Three.

The national team captain Cwinyaai hails from Pakwach but he has lived the last 18 years in Fort Portal ever since his late father was shifted from Nsambya Police Barracks.

By flashing marks of brilliance with the clubs to hold off the pressure group of Lejirma, Zambian teenager Chanda Bwembya and Namulonge club’s Marvin Kibirige, Cwinyaai not only ended Kenya’s 812-day hold of the title but, he is now the third man from Tooro Club to lift the coveted Open.

A level-par 71 round on Friday thrust him to fourth, four strokes behind Lejirma and but he turned on the lights to ascend to championship glory on Saturday.

Cwinyaai luckily trimmed that gap on the opening two holes. First on the par-5 Hole No.1, he got a birdie while Lejirma’s poorly weighted tee-shot resulted into a double-bogey.

At the short par-3 Hole No.2, the Nakuru-bred star still fumbled with a bogey but Cwinyaai was safe with a par. “That is my worst start to any final day of a championship,” a disappointed Lejirma later stated.

When the gallery astronomically grew at the par-3 Hole No.8, Cwinyaai led the Open for the first time thanks to his long drive which resulted into a par while Lejirma's challenge was melting under the heat, giving away another bogey.

“Lejirma beat me in the pressure group last year because of my mistakes. I didn’t want to shame my country this time and I had to show my players how it was it was done.”

Cwinyaai doubled his advantage at par-3 Hole No.12 after Lejirma’s tee-shot went to the lower bunker on the right, chipping out well before double-putting for bogey.

Cwinyaai got a par but he however kicked his club to express dissatisfaction after his birdie putt miss following stellar tee-shot. “Maybe, he’s not as good as he thinks,” one voice in the gallery pessimistically said.

After both secured birdies at par-4 Hole No.13, Cwinyaai appeared to have won the Open under the shadows of the pine canopy at par-4 Hole No.14.

His tee-shot flew all the way to the green just 12 feet away from the white flag, upping the decibels of the partisan gallery. As his competitors approached with second shots, he was literally relaxed, quickly chewing a yellow banana.

Lejirma chipped but his ball flew to the right past the flag but it only stopped at the apron after a mistimed big trajectory. The signs that the title was gone had now fully manifested for the Railways Club player.

He missed a birdie putt and wasn’t happy with the par yet for Cwinyaai, he narrowly missed the putt for eagle but the resultant birdie took his lead to three shots with four holes to spare.

The pair would then fashion similar scores of pars at par-5 Hole No.15, par-3 Hole No.16 and the dreaded par-4 Hole No.17 and little could their bogeys on par-5 Hole No.18 change and that there, sparking off celebrations.

The victory will give him a deserved gift ahead of his 27th birthday tomorrow but more importantly, it’s a proper dusk to Cwinyaai’s amateur career as he looks to join the professional stage next year.

80TH TUSKER MALT UGANDA AMATEUR OPEN

FINAL LEADERBOARD

1 Joseph Cwinyaai (UGA)                  75 73 71 68 287

2 John Lejirma (KEN)                        75 71 69 75 290

T3 Tom Jingo (UGA)                          76 75 69 71 291

T3 Chanda Bwembya (ZAM)             72 72 73 74 291

5 Marvin Kibirige (UGA)                   72 75 71 74 292

6 Bulhan Matovu (UGA)                    71 74 75 73 293

7 James Koto (UGA)                          76 75 70 73 294

8 Denis Asaba (UGA)                        77 71 73 74 295

9 Ibrahim Aliga (UGA)                      75 73 73 75 296

10 Elton Thembo (UGA)                    77 76 75 70 298

CAST OF UGANDA AMATEUR OPEN WINNERS

2021: Joseph Cwinyaai (UGA)

2020: John Lejirma (KEN)

2019: Daniel Nduva (KEN)

2018: Ronald Otile (UGA)

2017: Ronald Rugumayo (UGA)

2016: Ronald Otile (UGA)

2015: Ronald Otile (UGA)

2014: Willy Deus Kitata (UGA)

2013: Peter Ssendawula (UGA)

2012: Phillip Kasozi (UGA)

2011: Rogers Byaruhanga (UGA)

2010: Brian Mwesigwa (UGA)

2009: Peter Ssendawula (UGA)

2008: George Olayo (UGA)

2007: Nicholas Rokoine (KEN)

2006: Amos Kamya (UGA)

2005: Charles Yokwe (UGA)

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