Respect for Nakalembe, Cwinyaai and Rugumayo

Rene Nakalembe, Joseph Cwinyaai and Ronald Rugumayo. PHOTO/EDDIE CHICCO

What you need to know:

  • Jinx Broken. Four affable personalities and justifiably so the darlings of the neutrals.
  • Joseph Cwinyaai, Irene Nakalembe, Ronald Rugumayo and Deo Akope scripted some history for Uganda in 2021.
  • Missing Piece. Irene Nakalembe roared to victory in-front of her home gallery in Entebbe for her first Uganda Ladies Open title.
  • Walking The Talk. National captain Cwinyaai sealed his Open legacy.
  • Steady Growth. Rugumayo continues to be the best prospect in terms of Ugandan professionals’ golf.

Golf was one of the sports to quickly forge forward after the coronavirus pandemic relented.  But the lockdown in June after Covid-19’s Delta variant proved too strong and dimmed the game of swing and putt’s trajectory. Golf didn’t feel that proper warmth of a genuinely busy calendar. 

But Uganda Golf Union (UGU) will partly count the year as a success after all, president Moses Matsiko and his executive staged the Open amid tough and strict Covid-19 guidelines.

Solid Nakalembe
And even if the UGU’s calendar was heavily decimated, Irene Nakalembe and Joseph Cwinyaai rose above that storm to win the 71st Ladies Open and 80th Amateur Open respectively.

And for the men in the paid ranks, none enjoyed a purple patch like Ronald Rugumayo. Little wonder he finished as the country’s best in fourth during the 16th Professionals’ Open.

Nakalembe in particular, had a fabulous year on the greens and it all climaxed with her putting an end to an eight-year wait for the Ladies Open title with a best aggregate total of 222 gross over 54 holes.

Within that waiting period, she endured a series of heartbreaks in her quest for the biggest trophy of ladies’ golf in the land. 

Third place in 2016 and 2018 and second-place finishes in 2017 and 2019 may have left Nakalembe wounded but with vital lessons. In late March,  she won  a record seventh Entebbe Ladies Open title which she followed up with the Tanzania Ladies Open in Dar es Salaam and also grabbed a third straight Ikoyi Ladies Open crown in Nigeria just weeks before Entebbe.

On the decisive day of Uganda Ladies Open, Nakalembe’s par at par-5 Hole No.11 earned her a five-stroke lead with seven holes to go after her next challenger Kenyan Mercy Nyanchama carded a bogey. She never looked back. Actually Nakalembe faced the large gallery at the 18th tee-box with a four-shot advantage.

Cwinyaai restores pride
Whereas Entebbe Club was overly delighted with their first-ever Ladies Open champion in Nakalembe, Cwinyaai could have won his for his country.

In the previous two editions, Kenyans Daniel Nduva (2019) and John Lejirma (2020) had won this title.

This time, national team captain Cwinyaai ascended on the leaderboard like an aircraft heading into space to reclaim the championship’s honours with an aggregate score of 287 gross for a three-shot win over 72 holes.

In the past, the handicap +2 player had come closed with fifth (2018) and two fourth-place (2019 and 2020) finishes but besides having few tournaments on offer, it got harder when Cwinyaai lost his father Seargent Samson Keuber Palyel four months before the Open. He had only won the Rwenzori Open in Fort Portal back in March and commanded a respectable fifth place at the 31st Kenya Amateur Stroke-play Championship in Nakuru in October.

An accumulated 10 practice rounds with a best of score five-under 66 off-set Cwinyaai, carding rounds of 75, 73, 71 and 68 to win the Open. He was in fourth place, trailing Open defending champion and leader Lejirma by four strokes going into the final round.

Tooro’s pride 
A lucky Cwinyaai however had that gap closed over the first two holes, first at the par-5 Hole No.1 where he got a birdie while Lejirma’s heavy tee-shot resulted into a double-bogey.  Then at the short par-3 Hole No.2, Lejirma strangely putted for a bogey yet Cwinyaai eased to a par. Little would alter Cwinyaai’s script after Lejirma struggled to get a par at the long par-5 No.15 yet Cwinyaai, with a birdie, he took his lead to three shots with four holes to spare.

Mayo time
Tooro’s pride did not stop at Cwinyaai. Rugumayo in the professional ranks outdid himself. He enjoyed an enviable purple patch where he did not miss any cut at all tournaments he participated in.

Rugumayo won the biggest share of the Rwenzori Open in Fort Portal in March and weeks before the Open, Uganda Professional Golfers’ Association (UPGA) made up for the lost time with events; Kakira Open in Jinja, Naro Open in Namulonge, the Captain’s Bell and Lady Captain’s Prize at Uganda Golf Club (UGC) in Kitante before the Uganda Open Prep Event.

And the 2017 Uganda Amateur Open winner Rugumayo emerged victor at both UGC events and also made the cut at two events on the Safari Tour in Kenya.

Respect to Akope
Whereas Kenyan Jastas Madoya proved unbeatable with an aggregate score 13-under 271 over four rounds, Rugumayo had a respectable five-under 279 in fourth.

Only two other Ugandans made the top ten with Silver Opio and two-time winner Deo Akope tying in ninth on 287. UPGA captain Akope had an iconic landmark in mid-October where he became the first Ugandan to win a leg of the Safari Tour after beating the field by a two strokes at the Nyali Country Club.

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