Golf cries out for mulligan

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MASERU — While Angel Cabrera was gleefully adorning himself with “The Green Jacket” at the US Masters last week, the greens of the Chapman Golf Club in Harare, Zimbabwe, were hosting greenhorns hoping to one day emulate the Argentine’s feats.

But while southern Africa’s prospects were competing at the 2009 Zone VI International Amateur Golf Team Games, Lesotho was conspicuous by its absence.

One of those who were confined to their living rooms was Motlalentoa Moloi, Lesotho’s only professional golfer.

Moloi, 38, is a member of the Sunshine Tour, a men’s professional golf tour based in southern Africa.

Sadly, like his countrymen, Moloi was unable to pit his wits against his continental counterparts.

Lesotho did not send a team to the 2009 Zone VI edition due to a chronic lack of resources.

“We didn’t go because there were no funds. In the past we didn’t really have a team to represent the country,” Moloi says.

“However we spent all this time building a promising squad. Sadly we couldn’t send them to the games.”

Unlike football, golf is not a mainstream sport in Lesotho.

In the last 12 years Lesotho has only sent a team to the Zone VI golf tournament on four occasions — in 1997, 1998, 2001 and last year.

It’s a massive disappointment to Moloi, who coaches the national team.

“It’s disappointing because we felt we could have done better this time round,” he says. “We have put together a good young team.”

Moloi’s optimism is brought about by Lesotho’s performance at last year’s Zone VI games in Zambia.

“Last year we got three points,” he says.

“It’s not great, but an improvement on the previous tournament (in 2001) where we got two-and-a-half points.”

On that occasion Moloi contributed one-and-a-half of the team’s points total as Lesotho finished last.

In 2008 the country improved to a ninth-place finish.

The Zone VI golf championships are contested by 10 countries — South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland, Malawi, Tanzania and Lesotho.

“I feel we could have made the top five this time round,” Moloi says.

Still, failure to prepare is preparing to fail, and as with other sports in the country, under-preparedness is a major cause of Lesotho’s perennial underachievement.

“At last year’s games we arrived late. We arrived the day before the tournament began so we were unable to have any proper preparation,” Moloi says.

“As a result for the first two days our performance was poor. But as the team got used to the conditions they improved.”

Any significant improvement to the country’s golf will depend on financial help.

“All the nations there (Zone VI games) are helped financially by their governments,” Moloi laments.

“When you aren’t able to send a team to such games it reflects badly on the country.

“The golf association went to the LSRC (Lesotho Sports and Recreation Commission) to ask for money but there was none available.”

He adds: “If you compare Lesotho to Zimbabwe, for example, then we are a long way behind when it comes to support and sponsorship.

“Zimbabwe for all its troubles is second only to South Africa when it comes to golf in Africa.

“There is not enough support for sport in general in Lesotho and for golf it’s even worse.”

Yet despite all the glaring difficulties, Moloi remains optimistic about the future of golf in the country.

“Since 2003 there has been a big increase in the number of people playing golf, in particular among younger ages,” he says.

Moloi mentions Baitsi Motsamai, Tieho Mochebele, Tlotliso Khabo and Tung-Nan Lin among the few gems he sees shining bright in the near future.

Lin, a Chinese national, represented Lesotho at last year’s Zone VI games and Moloi believes he and his mates have the capacity to become professionals.

“Within a year they can turn professional,” he says. “(But) they are not the only ones with talent. I look at the young players in general and they are very promising.”

Moloi, however, has reservations about turning professional as long as there is no sponsorship.

“Then again, if they turn professional with no sponsorship we will be destroying them (because) they won’t have the support to pursue their careers,” he says.

It’s a minefield that Moloi knows all too well.

Since turning professional in 2004, hardships off the greens have invariably led to sub-standard performances on them.

“It’s difficult to go to all the tour events because I have no support,” he stresses.

“You have a tournament in Durban one week then in Johannesburg the other.

“You have to have time to prepare because conditions differ.”

Moloi adds: “Per year I play eight or nine tournaments which is not enough.”

So what do the next twelve months hold for Moloi?

“You can’t make plans because when you have no sponsors you are not sure what will come,” he says.

Nevertheless, for Moloi, his passion for golf is far from dying.

His desire is to see his sport spread and flourish throughout Lesotho.

Presently golf in Lesotho is concentrated exclusively in the capital, Maseru.

“I would love to see golf played all over the country one day,” Moloi says.

“Golf is not a sport about money at all, anyone can play.”

For the record, South Africa won the Zone VI games ahead of Zimbabwe.

For Lesotho, the biggest challenge right now is just getting onto the golf course. Having been ignored for long, Lesotho is crying out for a mulligan — a second shot of some sort.

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