Growing faster on the golf course; the Kibugu prodigies

Mutahi Kibugu and Njoroge Kibugu

Muthaiga Golf Club Professional golfer Mutahi Kibugu (left) with his amateur younger brother Njoroge Kibugu celebrate at 18th hole green after the final round during Sigona Leg Safari Tour at Sigona Golf Club on on January 18, 2023. 

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Theirs is confirmation that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
  • Mutahi and Njoroge are walking in the footsteps of their father, veteran golfer Dan Kagwe, though they are moving up another notch by turning professional and making a living out of their swings
  • Driven by passion, they are leaving nothing to chance, and have set their eyes on the ball, further banking on their sibling rivalry to push the limit beyond what they have achieved so far

Whenever Mutahi and Njoroge Kibugu pray to God thanking Him for their golf talent, they know they also have the Lord to thank for the eternal gift of having Dan and Anne Kagwe as their parents. 

About 30 minutes into our interview on this sunny day at Kenya’s home of golf, Muthaiga Golf Club, it becomes apparent why this family has produced Kenya’s best performers at the last two editions of the Magical Kenya Open. 

While Mutahi, 22, the elder of the two golf prodigies, was the only Kenyan to make the cut in this year’s Open, Njoroge was the star of the show last year, achieving a similar feat while still an amateur and only 18! He remains the youngest player to make the cut in the Kenya Open that teed off in 1967.

Dan Kagwe and Anne Kagwe

Dan Kagwe Kibugu (right) with his wife Anne Kagwe during the interview with Nation Sport at Muthaiga Golf Club on April 4, 2023. 

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

That moment not only lays bare the varying approaches to life of Anne and Dan, but also paints a clear picture of how the homeliness of the Kibugu family has kept Kenya’s brightest golf prospects ticking. It arrives in the form of a disagreement of sorts that quickly morphs into a consensus; an epitome of the sacrifices both parents have had to make for the success of their two sons whenever they step on the greens. 

Anne, who until then cut a rather taciturn figure, sheds more light on the decision to send both Mutahi and Njoroge to South Africa for higher education while still teenagers. 

“The saddest bit was Njoroge, the last-born, to have left at the age of 17. To me he was a baby, he remains a baby…Mutahi too, he also went to join the golf university in Johannesburg. Njoroge was in Cape Town so they were not in the same city, but somehow they sounded very confident and comfortable, so we just gave them a chance to explore,” said Anne, her reservations and caution written all over her response. 

At which point, Dan jumps in, the clarity in his voice stamping his authority as the de facto head of this family. “But, you know, if you keep your children thinking they are children, at what point do you stop looking at them as children? At 16, 18, 24, 30, 35?” poses Dan. 

Anne interjects almost immediately. “At 100… they’re still your babies,” she says, amid a chuckle. 
Dan then proceeds to drive his point home. 

Anne Kagwe with her son Njoroge Kibugu

Anne Kagwe with her son Njoroge Kibugu.

Photo credit: Pool

“There are old men and women still being regarded by their parents as children, so the earlier you give them the freedom to make their own decisions, the earlier they settle down in life. 

“It is important for you to let them go. Let them make decisions as early as 16 so that they know there are repercussions of making decisions on their own. Lakini huwezi kuwa baby baby (But you can’t keep pampering them), my friend they will never grow up!” asserts Dan, his eyes popping out of their sockets. 

“If you see Njoroge at 18, he acts like he is 25. He is very mature for his age, same with Mutahi. You can have a serious chat with them on investments because now they know you can be alone and can’t even afford a hamburger. 

“When you start learning that, you know next time I make 20 bucks, I need to spend 10 and keep 10. You mature faster, that’s my belief. You need to go out to the world and the world will teach you one or two things that your parents can’t,” he underlines. 

‘Golf widow’

It is in South Africa that the Kibugus refined their golfing skills, having started out at Uganda Golf Club, where their father served as Captain and chairman for 10 years, as toddlers. The “golf widow”, Anne, vividly recalls the early days in Uganda. 

“When they were two, three [years old], he (Dan) would pick his bag and they would wonder what that was. They would also go try and pull a club, which was dangerous. He went and bought them plastic clubs and balls. 

“That’s how they started playing at home, breaking the windows, cups… they would swing at almost everything. I had to remove the delicate things in the house because it’s not easy to handle two boys,” she says, half-jokingly. 

When they turned four, Dan began taking them with him to the Uganda Golf Club’s greens for their basic golf lessons. Soon, golf became their preferred hobby, which meant father and sons would spend the entire weekend playing golf.  

 A young Njoroge Kibugu in action

 A young Njoroge Kibugu in action. 

Photo credit: Pool

“I was a golf widow in Uganda for almost 10 years when he was Captain and chairman. The beginning was tough because we left Kenya with two children (Kagwe and Nyawira); we were still a young family. 

“I thought it was such an evil sport because you don’t see your husband. He goes to work on weekdays and on weekends he is not there. Having golfers in the house, you must be on toes. They all must dress, clothes must be ironed, shoes must be clean, everything must be intact. 

“I got used to it, at some point I didn’t have a choice but to accept it, so I just said: ‘One day you will come back.’ When the boys joined, I had a lot of time to myself and to run my business, which was good. I don’t regret it,” said Anne pointing out Njoroge’s feat at the 2022 Kenya Open where he emerged the best amateur, as a reality check for her. 

“When Njoroge won Sh1 million, I said ‘it’s golf full swing.’ Tomorrow he will make USD 1 million and they are two of them, it’s good for their life. Mutahi also made Sh2 million this year, which shows there is a future for them. We believe they will go international and make us proud.” 

Dan, however, sees golf as a means to an end in their sons’ lives. Having started golf quite late at 29, he only played up to handicap two, but his sons have already beaten his record despite their tender age. With Njoroge set to turn professional this year, he insists they will continue supporting them to pursue golf as a career. 

“It’s important for people to understand the world we live in and ask themselves what is life all about? Why do we struggle so much? 

“We struggle to earn a decent living and the route to earn it, is not the 60s, 70s, 80s definition. Most children (today) are going to school for their parents, not for themselves. It would be almost tragic, for instance, if I told Njoroge ‘I want you to be a medical doctor.’ I think he would think I’m crazy. 

“There are actually few children who love what they do, so I think when you spin it and get a child to do what they love doing and make a living out of it, be paid for it, it’s utopian! That is what we need to think about,” he emphasises. 

Golf as a career

Even with this “modern thinking”, Dan and Njoroge have already been on collision courses with regard to the latter striking a balance between education and his golf career. “The other day I was telling him he needs to start working [on his studies] so that he can graduate. He said, ‘No problem, I will give you a degree. But right now, let me do what I want to do. I want to be a pro golfer and that’s what I want to do for a living.’ Since he is focused on what he wants to do, you give him a chance. 

“At 18, you have room to make so many mistakes and mend them. African parents need to change their mindsets and encourage their children to develop their talents,” Dan said matter-of-factly.

While Mutahi and Njoroge might appear as overly successful in the eyes of the public and local golf fraternity, their parents believe they have yet to see the best version of their sons. Anne singles out their discipline at a tender age as evidence that they will go places. 

“They used to eat chips, burgers, all sorts of [junk] food, but after coming from South Africa, they told me: ‘Mum, no more chips, no more junk.’ If you put chips or sausages there, they won’t touch them. They just want to eat ugali, sukuma (collard greens), chicken, fish and salad. Mutahi loves coconut fish, while Njoroge loves roasted chicken. For breakfast, they will have cereal and just two eggs. They really watch their diet,” said Anne before revealing another side of their discipline, with finances. 

Kenya's Mutahi Kibugu celebrates after making the cut

Kenya's Mutahi Kibugu celebrates after making the cut during the second round of the Magical Kenya Open at Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi on March 10, 2023. 

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

“After this year’s Open, Mutahi said he had to leave. He booked his flight to South Africa almost immediately because he was getting like 40 missed calls from friends. He decided to leave and start preparing for his next tournament. When Njoroge got his prize money, he bought new equipment and even set aside some for his personal use like paying for Uber, airtime etc. 

“Before, while they were in South Africa, they used to ask us for money every other time to play in tournaments. But they can now join any tournament they want and pay for themselves,” said a beaming Anne, who doubles up as their designer. 

“I am the one who tells them how to dress, what to match. Your hat must match your shoes and your belt. Your T-shirt must match your trousers. They have grown knowing that they must look smart because smartness is part of confidence.”

Future Kenya Open champion

Sibling rivalry also adds petrol to the fire between Mutahi and Njoroge. 

“It is something I really like and encourage between them because if you beat your brother and he is a good player then it means you are closer to becoming a champion,” said Dan. 

But there is a caveat, as Anne advises. 

“We have a family WhatsApp group and normally you have to balance your message when congratulating one of them, especially when the other didn’t play well, otherwise it will appear like you’re favouring one of them. I remember when we once took Mutahi to the British Open as a family and when it was Njoroge’s turn, only two people took him and it became an issue. So with time we’ve learnt how to strike a balance,” said Anne.     

Golf sensations Mutahi Kibugu (left) and Njoroge Kibugu (right) pose for a photo with their father Dan Kagwe. 

From left: Golf sensations Mutahi Kibugu (left) and Njoroge Kibugu (right) pose for a photo with their father Dan Kagwe. 

Photo credit: Pool

It is the mindset and not talent, Dan insists, that can prevent Mutahi and Njoroge from conquering the world. 

“My best moments are when they come home crying and looking grumpy after a tournament that they came so close to winning but lost. It shows that they are passionate about what they do and they go into every competition with an intention of winning,” says Dan.  

While Njoroge was tied at 64 in last year’s open, Mutahi was tied at 65 overall in this year’s edition. Their father, Dan, has tipped either of them to win the Magical Kenya Open by 2026. 

“I have no doubt in my mind that they are going to win the Kenya Open, not far from now. One of them will win the Kenya Open very soon,” says Dan, looking the boldest he has in the entire interview. 

“How many years from now?” I ask. “In three years’ time,” he responds, with the conviction of a street preacher. 

Dan Kagwe and Anne Kagwe

Dan Kagwe Kibugu (right) with his wife Anne Kagwe during the interview with Nation Sport at Muthaiga Golf Club on April 4, 2023. 

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

“If they stay focused, the way they are doing, working with the mental coach. The mindset is what makes the difference between a great golfer and an ordinary golfer. 

“They need to work more on the mental aspect because striking a ball they can—like anybody else in the world. I think they are on the right track.  

“As parents, our prayer is that they will succeed and make a living out of golf. If, at one moment, they think they can write a cheque to their parents, frankly speaking, that’s their own problem. It should not be part of payback, we are okay.”

From Dan and Anne to God’s ears. It’s Easter anyway!