If 2018 was a quiet year for Kajal Mistry then 2019 has exploded into life.
The precocious women’s amateur golf career took a back seat to her studies in 2018 as she wrote her matric, and the resulting limited schedule saw the former No 1-ranked amateur tumble down the rankings.
It must have been agonising to watch others rack up the wins, but the 18-year-old diligently stuck to her schoolwork, knowing that, once completed, she would have a full eight months dedicated solely to golf.
It would appear the sacrifice has been well worth it. In the six months since Mistry packed away her books, the Randpark golfer has taken her game
to the next level on the amateur and professional circuits in South Africa.
A fine run of results on the Sunshine Ladies Tour circuit earlier in the year, including two runner-up finishes among five top-10s, saw her end the year fourth
on the Investec Property Fund Order of Merit. It was a remarkable achievement
for an 18-year-old amateur playing against hardened professionals from across the globe; yet the best was yet to come.
In April, Mistry teed it up at the South African Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play Championships at Woodhill Country Club in Pretoria. Over the course of a week, she won the 54-hole strokeplay event by five shots before claiming the biggest prize of all, the SA Amateur Championship, by defeating Kaylah Williams in the final.
The match, featuring two of the country’s brightest talents, went all the way to the 20th hole, before Mistry knocked in a birdie putt for the win.
‘It was an amazing match,’ says Mistry. ‘Kaylah played so well and either of us could have won – I’m just so glad it was me.
‘We each made one bogey all day and I guess it was the timing of hers – on the 16th hole – that made the difference. I went from 2 down with three to play and in trouble, to 1 down and feeling like I could still do it.’
After the pair finished regulation play all square, they went to sudden-death extra holes. Mistry matched Williams’ birdie on the first hole, before holing a decisive putt for birdie on the second hole.
‘My first feeling when the putt dropped was relief,’ she says. ‘I just thought, “I’m so glad this is over.” Then it started to dawn on me what I’d achieved and I was so
Mistry’s successful week has seen her become the first player since Kim Williams in 2010 to win the SA Stroke Play and Match Play double in the same year. It’s as good a parting shot as one could hope for before she begins the next chapter of her career – college golf in the US.
‘I will be going to the University of Arkansas to play golf and study for a business degree,’ she says. She will join up with compatriot Cara Gorlei, winner of the SA Amateur in 2017.
‘I’m in no rush to turn professional – it’s not even a thought at this moment,’ Mistry says. ‘College golf is going to be my main focus and I think I still have
a lot to learn and areas where I need to improve. Hopefully at the end of my four years I can turn pro and play on the LPGA Tour.’
True to form, Mistry is determined not to let golf get in the way of her academics. ‘Over the four years I want to get good academic results and win golf events, as part of a team and individually,’ she says. ‘But education is far more important than golf, so I will need to find a way to balance them and tick all the boxes.’
The reigning SA Amateur champion has a bright future, together with a carefully considered map of how to get there. Expect to see Kajal Mistry’s name among the bright lights of professional golf fairly soon – just not before she has finished her studies, of course.
WHAT THE COACH SAYS
Darren Witter, who operates out of Randpark, has no doubt Mistry has the will and the talent to succeed.
‘Her dedication and work ethic are phenomenal. I’ve been coaching Kajal since she started attending junior clinics at the age of three and she has always been committed to improving her game.
‘Even during matric, she practised hard and attended lessons, and while most matriculants went on their end-of-year holidays, Kajal stayed to work on her golf game. It paid off with her results in 2019.
‘I have no doubt Kajal will be very successful in the US,’ he says. ‘She has developed a swing that is repeatable under pressure, she hits the ball good distances and she handles pressure moments extremely well. She has always had a solid support structure at home and now she’s going to one of the best golf colleges in the US, so I expect her to do very well.’
– This article first appeared in the June issue of Compleat Golfer