What you need to know:
- For one who started playing the game barely three years ago with no golf kit of his own, the 29-year-old player who lost hearing at an early age following a fall from a tree has achieved many firsts
- He became the first amateur golfer to qualify for 2021 Magical Kenya Open Championship, having won the 2020 Kenya Amateur Match Play Championship against able-bodied opponents
- He credits his steady rise to support from fellow golfers, particularly his Vet Lab club mate Kihara and Railway’s Njoroge
Kenya Amateur Match Play golf champion Isaac Makokha is not in any hurry to turn professional, not until he has prepared well for the paid ranks.
Makokha, Kenya’s only deaf golfer who credits his rise to Vet Lab Sports Club in Kiambu County, is a man on a mission. Hoping to become a world-class golfer, he is walking in the footsteps of Kenya Railway Golf Club player Samuel Njoroge who he reckons is a good example of how an amateur golfer should prepare before turning professional.
The 29-year-old who lost his hearing at an early age following a fall from a tree wants to follow in the footsteps of Njoroge, who won several amateur tournaments and emerged the best amateur golfer last year, then played abroad in international competitions before turning professional last month.
“I will not rush to turn professional until I am sure my family is well taken care of, and that I have good support in terms of sponsorship. This way, I can fully concentrate in my golfing career,’’ Makokha, who became the first amateur golfer to qualify for the 2021 Magical Kenya Open Golf Championship by virtue of having won the Kenya Amateur Match Play Championship title, said.
He achieved the feat against able-bodied opponents, beating Royal Nairobi Golf Club’s Jay Sandhu in a 36-hole final match at Vet Lab.
The Match Play was Makokha’s first national title since he started playing serious golf in 2017.
“I felt so proud to have won the match play and at my home club. I had not won a national event before, and that motivated me. I am looking forward to playing in the Uganda Open Championship should I get a chance. It will be a major part of my preparation for the Magical Kenya Open, which is a difficult tournament,’’ he says.
He won the Match Play Championship against the odds. First, he did not have the resources to compete, although he had been practising daily since the coronavirus pandemic set in. It took the intervention of a well-wisher for him to compete in the tournament.
“I used to train at the gym until fellow Vet Lab Golf Club member David Kihara told me to start practising on the course, and to prepare for the match play. I didn’t even know that it would be held, let alone where. Kihara told me to try and win the Match Play Championship since I was the best amateur in the country after Njoroge joined the professional ranks. So I started practising, although I was worried because I was broke. I thank God for James Mwangi of Astrol Petroleum who gave me some money for buying food for my household. From then, I was able to focus on the event,’’ says Makokha.
He is grateful to Kihara and Paresh Jai whom he says have had a big input in his career.
“I would not have gone far with my golfing career if these gentlemen did not give me the encouragement I needed at the time,’’ adds Makokha.
His brother Jeff Kubwa, a professional player at Muthaiga Golf Club, has also made tremendous contribution to the betterment of his game.
“Jeff is the one I have always turned to for advice when my game is not going in the right direction. He makes me calm and focused, and I am so thankful to him’’.
But as he tries to keep himself ready for 2021 Kenya Open Championship and possibly the Uganda Open later this month, Makokha says his biggest headache at the moment is financial instability, and difficulty in moving from his house to his home club of Vet Lab and to different golf courses where he would like to play as a way of preparing for 2021 Kenya Open Championship.
“My golf kit is old and I will need a new one. I need to continue playing even after the Kenya Open. Most of the players who come for Kenya Open have good sponsorship, this is why they are able to play well. If my wife is able to find an employment, it will real help me to focus on my game,’’ adds Makokha, who is married to Susan Mbura. Together, they have daughter aged one year and five months.
It has been a long journey for Makokha, born on February 10, 1991 in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. His father, a former employee of Eldoret Golf Club, passed on in 2017.
Although he came into contact with the game of golf at the early age of 10, with his brothers and friends at the Eldoret Golf Club where his father John Makokha Kubwa was working.
It was not however possible for him to actively play golf, largely because of his condition. Even then, he could not afford a golf set. Besides, his mother Dorcas Oloo who now lives in Ugunja, Siaya County, wanted Makokha to continue with his education. She did her best to get Makokha the right educational facilities.
Once in a while, he would travel to Eldoret, particularly during school holidays.
“I use to go and stay with my father and my step-mother in Eldoret, and I would go to the club where with friends, I tried to play using anything that looked like a golf club. We would use stones as balls. One day, golfer John Kisia gave me one golf club, which gave me a rough idea how an actual golf club looked like.’’
Upon his father’s retirement in 2001, they relocated back to their rural home where he finished his primary and secondary school studies.
“In 2009, my elder brother (Jeff Kubwa) went back to the club (Eldoret) after finishing secondary school studies and since our father could not afford to send him to college, I joined him in 2010 for the same reason after my Secondary school education. He hosted me and encouraged me to pick up the game.
Jeff, then a caddy at Eldoret Club, understands sign language so it was easy for me to stay with him as he showed me how to do a number of things.
“Other than Jeff and I, my other brothers Reuben Kubwa, Daniel Kubwa and Charles Odhiambo were there and also tried playing golf . It is only me and Jeff who is now a pro, who have been successful. Reuben is still keen on playing golf, and has tried several times to play in national events,’’ Makokha adds.
“In 2015, I started looking for a golf course around Uthiru where I was living with my cousin after moving to Nairobi. I eventually found out about Vet lab, having gone all over looking for a club to join, including as far away as Mombasa. One day I walked into the club house at Vet Lab and expressed my desire to play golf, thanks to Edwin Mudonge who had known me since childhood.
“I struggled to find clubs to play with, occasionally having to borrow. My brother Jeff, who had joined Muthaiga Club at the time and was a member of the national team, gave me a three-wood, two wedges and a putter.’’
Gave him new kit
While at Vet Lab, Kihara, accommodated him at the Golf Talent Foundation in 2016, and gave him a golf kit.
“That was my first break-through, and I will forever be grateful to Kihara,’’ he says.
At Vet Lab, he found established players like Edwin Mudanyi, Nelson Simwa and Mike Kisia. Many of the golfers were from Eldoret.
“Vet Lab has been very supportive of me, particularly after I won the Match Play Championship. I thank the club and the members for giving me an opportunity to pursue my dream of becoming a world-class golfer.”
Makokha, the third born in a family of 10 children, was born a normal child.
“According to my mother, I was fine until one day when I fell from a tree. I was badly injured and I was taken to the hospital. While in the hospital, I lost the ability to speak. Doctors encouraged my mother to get me a school where I could continue with my education. All along, my mother still hoped I would gain my speech again, but it never happened,’’ Makokha said through his interpreter Winnie Adoyo.
The two met when Makokha was preparing to travel to Turkey for 2017 Deaflympics.
“I started my education in a regular school in Busia before being moved to Mumias School for the Deaf where I learnt up to class eight. I later joined Kuja Special Secondary School for the Deaf in Migori but school fee became a problem,” says Makokha, who was later moved to Nyang’oma Technical School for the Deaf in Bondo where he sat his Form Four exams.
“I am truly grateful to my mother for all the effort she made to ensure I get a school where I could comfortably learn. I thank my interpreter Adoyo for volunteering her time to assist me whenever I am playing. It is normally easier for her to explain things to those I am playing with, or to the referee whenever I need a help. She has been doing that free of charge, and I wish I could get a good sponsorship so that she can be paid for the services she is rendering to me,’’ says Makokha, who reckons playing at the Kenya Open without an interpreter will be a difficult task.
Makokha finished fifth in the 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey.