Michael Karanga
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Michael Karanga: From matatu tout to Kenya’s leading amateur golfer

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Kiambu Golf Club's Michael Karanga playing in the second edition of Malindi OpenVasco Da gama Cup in Kilifi County on August 11, 2023.   

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

When Kenyan actress Lupita Nyongo received her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie 12 Years a Slave in 2014 she famously said “no matter where you are from your dreams are valid”.

From a little-known struggling thespian in Nairobi to a Hollywood international star.

How true this would apply to Kiambu Golf Club player Michael Karanga.

The thriving amateur golfer walked away from the matatu industry where he worked as a tout living from hand to mouth, to become, not only Kenya’s number one amateur golfer, but also among the top 100 best players in the world.

Born on January 24, 1995 in Ndumberi in Kiambu County, Karanga attended the local Karunga Primary School from 2001 to 2009. It was while in primary school that he was introduced to the game of golf as one of the juniors at Ndumberi Golf Club in 2006.

“I was not really keen on golf though, and this is one of the reason why I even dropped the golfing idea as my mind was on the matatus where I found those makangas (touts) really funny and very interesting. I dropped out of high school to engage full time as a matatu tout because I wanted to make money for my survival’’ said Karanga.

However, his decision did not please his maternal grandfather, Michael Karanga Mwaura, a retired professional golfer.

“My grandfather, MK, as he is popularly known, convinced me to leave the matatu job,” the junior Karanga recalls.

Ndumberi Golf Club

So, in 2011 he started playing golf seriously at Ndumberi Golf Club and a year later was given a handicap of 10.

“I really thank and appreciate MK for the decision he took because it opened my mind and I could see that I had taken the wrong decision earlier’’ said Karanga.

In 2013 he was taken by senior Captain Njogu wa Njoroge to Kiambu Golf Club and started in the league matches for the club.

“In the 2018 season Kiambu golf club supported me to play in the Golfer of the Year, now Kenya Amateur Golf Championship (KAGC) Series. I featured in five tournaments namely Sigona Bowl at Sigona, Mount Kenya Championship in Nyeri, Muthaiga Open, Windsor Classic and Winston Churchill Cup at Thika Sports’’.

Karanga says he missed the cut at Sigona and Nyeri but managed to make cuts at Muthaiga, Windsor Classic and Winston Churchill.

“I was really excited in making the cut to those events, and started practicing seriously. I didn’t play that much in 2019, but prepared well for the 2020 season where I won both Sigona and Mount Kenya Championship.

However, the remaining events were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

When golf activities were allowed in 2021 Karanga went full blast gunning to win the order of merit title.

“I cherished the idea of becoming Kenya’s number one, so I played six tournaments and won all of them. I led the series until Nyali’s Adel Balala came firing and won the series and I finished second. I was very disappointed with the idea of having been beaten, so in 2022 I played only four tournaments’’.

His breakthrough, however, came the following year when he won an astounding, record-setting 13 tournaments out of the 17 he played.

The previous record was held by Kopan Timbe, who won 12 out of 15 tournaments in 2003 before turning pro.

But there is more to Karanga’s super 2023 year. He won all those events on under par scores and with course record scores in Sigona, Mombasa, and Kiambu.

Invitations to play abroad came thick and fast. The notable ones were the British Amateur Championship where finished a credible 279, Western Open in Cape Town South Africa where he placed fifth and a tournament in Egypt where he finished fourth.

Karanga Michael

Michael Karanga after winning the 103rd Coast Open Barry Cup at Mombasa Golf Course on July 23, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

He placed 10th in the All Africa Open Championship before registering his first international victory at the Ghana Open.

He picked up this year from where he left off last year at the international level, placing third in the Jordan Open on May 11.

High standards

Karanga however started this year’s local season poorly, by his high standards.

“I have so far played in the Sigona Bowl where I finished second, missed the cut at Muthaiga, then came second and fourth at Windsor and Winston Churchill. I think I was more focused on encouraging Elvis Muigua who I mentored. I am actually happy as he has won four tournaments’’.

Karanga says he is still focused on winning this year’s KAGC Order of Merit title.

What else?

“I will play in the British Amateur Championship, then wait for the Asian Tour event at Karen. I am very happy that I have just retained the Coronation Trophy by a good score of eight under par 211. I still believe I would have finished even better and probably break the course record set in 2004 by the late James Lorum, if the greens were not so hard.

“All said and done, I owe my success in this game of golf to my grandfather MK Mwaura and my sponsors Betika who have supported me for two years’’.

Karanga says the game of golf can take one to many places as long as one is hard working and disciplined.

Away from golf Karanga is also involved in business.

“I have invested in some business’’ Karanga offers without giving details.

He set up the Michael Karanga Foundation in Ndumberi last where mentors 350 kids mostly from underprivileged families.

“Currently 30 of them have handicaps. I want those kids to grow and play like me and show Kenyans that golf is not a game for the rich and that anyone can play the game,” said Karanga.