By ROBINSON KUNDA (Zambia Daily Mail)
WITH the course declared ready, the players raring to go and a finger-tingling top price of R190,000 (KR114,000) being dangled, the Zambia Sugar Open Golf Championship tees off at Lusaka Golf Club today.
It is another huge challenge for Zambian golfers who have previously struggled to make the cut, let alone win the title – a feat yet to be achieved.
The country’s biggest hope, yet again, is Madalitso Muthiya, whose best run in the competition was finishing second in 2006 when Nchanga Golf Club in Chingola hosted the event.
A field of 136 golfers swinging, chipping and putting for supremacy will not only be battling against each other, but also against the challenges of the course.
The number will be cut by half at the end of the second round of play tomorrow.
With the fairways and greens in perfect condition, the array of golfers will be gunning for birdies, eagles and possibly the rare albatross that has never been achieved in the history of the competition.
Other local golfers expected to make the impact at the tournament that ends on Sunday are Dayne Moore and Michael Chiluba.
“I have prepared well for this tournament. I am just trying to take it easy but I hope to do better than last year,” said Chiluba, who failed to make the cut last year.
The tournament has attracted some of the finest golfers in Africa, especially from the southern region of the continent. These include defending champion Justin Harding of South Africa.
The soft-spoken Harding won the 2012 edition when he carded 12 under. He walked away with the trophy by two strokes better than fellow South African Divan Vander Heever. The champion has never looked back since then and he has been enjoying top form that has seen him snatch five top 10 finishes in highly competitive events this year, apart from qualifying for the 2013 British Open Championship.
However, this year’s event is different and history does not favour Harding because only two people have so far won the Zambia Open Golf tournament back-to-back since its inception in 1969.
Craig Defoy of the United States won the event in 1972 and went on to defend it in 1973 while South Africa’s Steve Basson won the championship back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.
“It’s a good feeling to be defending champion this week and winning last year was really superb. I have been playing nicely recently and I’m looking forward to putting a few birdies together and seeing if I can’t lift the trophy again.
“The course is good, but it’s a tricky one. There are a lot of dog-legs and keeping it in the fairway is premium, but it’s not always easy to do. You just have to grind it out and take advantage of the par fives,” Harding said.
It remains to be seen if Harding could become the third golfer to achieve this feat, which will require him beating a horde of fine Sunshine Tour golfers such as previous winners Titch Moore and Doug McGuigan, both of South Africa, and Muthiya.
The runner-up will get KR82,800, with the third finisher taking home KR50, 000.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Ruan de Smit yesterday carded five under par to win the Airtel Consortium Pro-Am at Lusaka Golf Club.
On Tuesday, another South African, Van Tonder Danie, won the Indo Zambia Bank Pro-Am.
In yesterday’s event, Spangenburg Theunis, also of South Africa, finished second after recording three under par while James Kamte was third with the score of two under.