With the foreign legion not necessarily swarming the 79th edition of the Tusker Malt Uganda Amateur Open, the Ugandans did not grasp the opportunity with another Kenyan John Lejirma, literally coming out of oblivion to notch the coveted title by three shots at the par-72 course.
Unfamiliar even back at home, Lejirma, like Daniel Nduva at Kigo last year, didn’t lose focus.
He held firm at his first of the 72-hole stroke-play championship with a final round of one-under 71 to finish with a total aggregate score of one-under 287 gross on Friday.
“I am very happy,” said Lejirma after receiving his diadem from Uganda Golf Union (UGU) president Moses Matsiko and Tusker’s Philippa Nantamu.
The man from Railway Golf Club was tied in 11th place after Day One, then tied second on Day Two and stayed a stroke behind the leader Michael Alunga heading into the final round.
The Nakuru-bred player, who has only had three national team call-ups, displayed meticulous play with six sweet birdies which were decimated by a double bogey on par-5 Hole No.3 and three bogeys to leave the fairly sizable gallery muted.
“My caddie John Walusimbi is the one who played the game,” Lejirma said. “Thank you to everyone who has shown love and come support to me,” he added.
Gallery in pain
Many had turned up to support the local lads in the pressure group led by Alunga, pre-tournament favourite Joseph Cwinyaai and Christopher Baguma who had seemed to show the oomph it takes to claim the trophy.
Alunga savoured a birdie on No.3 but greatly fumbled on the greens with seven bogeys and a double bogey on par-3 Hole No.11 to card 80 eventually tying fourth with Cwinyaai and Rodell Gaita on 295.
“My approach was the best but my putting was the worst,” said Alunga, who often took a frown to each subsequent tee-box.
National captain Cwinyaai smiled with three birdies on but he too had a dreadful scorecard littered with five bogeys and a pair of double-bogeys.
“Putting really let me down and my game management wasn’t that good,” said Cwinyaai. “The back nine really challenged me the whole tournament, I finished with +14 there.”
It is Entebbe’s Baguma who rose up to take on Lejirma in the pressure group but his fight with three birdies was blighted by two bogeys and a double-bogey on par-4 Hole No.12 in a round of 73 was only good for an aggregate 292 gross to settle for third.
These capitulations gave room to Day One leader Joseph Kasozi to rise from fifth place in the second pressure to take second place on 290 after firing five birdies and two bogeys for three-under 69.
“I felt the rhythm from the start,” stated Kasozi. “From Day One, I knew I could make it. If it wasn’t for 78 on Day Two, I would have been champion.”
Final Leaderboard - Top 10
1. John Lejirma (KEN) 71 287
2. Joseph Kasozi (UGA) 69 290
3. Chris Baguma (UGA) 73 292
T4. Michael Alunga (UGA) 80 295
T4. Joseph Cwinyaai (UGA) 78 295
T4. Rodell Gaita (UGA) 73 295
T7. Denis Asaba (UGA) 74 299
T7. Adel Balala (KEN) 72 299
9. Peter Mwangi (KEN) 75 301
T10. Marvin Kibirige (UGA) 77 303
T10. Ibra Bagalana (UGA) 74 303