Gone are the days of me showing up at a tournament in South Africa with anything less than my A-game.
Having narrowly kept my card on the Sunshine Tour at the end of the 2018-19 wraparound season, a few of my priorities shifted back to the course as I prepared for the Zambia Open and Zambia Masters.
Over the past few years, the cutlines at some Sunshine Tour venues have gone from level- or one-under par, to five- or six-under par. At the Simola and Mount Edgecombe tournaments last year, the cut was set at six-under par, having previously never been lower than one-under.
This time, Nkana Golf Club hosted the season opener, the Mopani Redpath Greendoor Logistics Zambia Open. The tournament’s name was a lot wider than the fairways that week! It showed too, as the cut was +7. I spent an anxious Friday afternoon in the clubhouse after a score of seven-over par, having teed off at 7:10am. With the top 60 making the cut, seven-over par was a tie for 54th. The weekend saw some tidier and more relaxed golf, as is always the case after the cut. I steadily climbed the leaderboard, before dropping shots on five of my last six holes to fall back into a tie for 47th. With travel bags zipped up, the boot closed and ‘padkos’ in hand, we hit the road to Lusaka for the Zanaco Masters.
Lusaka Golf Club has always been one of my favourite venues, but fresh off a rough finishing stretch at Nkana, I needed a day or two of fine-tuning before the first round. It paid off, as I opened with a four-under-par 69, before slipping back a few spots with a one-over 74 in the second round. It left me in a tie for 29th place heading into the weekend.
I arrived at the club on Saturday morning wearing my go-to ‘Moving Day’ outfit, then sat down in front of the putting green with a cup of coffee. Almost immediately I was approached by a young Zambian, who looked to be in his early twenties, wearing tennis kit and double-strapping a backpack. He introduced himself as Patrick Mufumbila. I learned that he was a journeyman pro, like myself.
Only his journey was on the ATP tennis circuit. Over the next half an hour, I listened to his amazing story – from growing up in a poor Zambian compound to playing against world-class players. Before I knew it, my regular pre-round routine timeline was out the window. After a handful of warm-up shots with a 9-iron and a dozen putts, I found myself being introduced by the starter on the 1st tee box.
That early in the day, each group’s introduction from the starter is usually met with silence. But on that morning, enthusiastic applause erupted from behind the tee box. It was Patrick. He walked the entire weekend with my group, and rounds of 68 and 69 meant a top-10 finish.
I introduced Patrick to a dozen other players and we all ended up watching an incredible finish to the event, with beers in hand, as JC Ritchie eagled the final hole to force a playoff with Rhys Enoch, before a 10-foot birdie putt saw JC hoist another trophy.
When that final putt dropped, Patrick turned to each of us and promised courtside tickets for his first match at Wimbledon one day. In the meantime he will continue to play ATP qualifying events while working in Prague at a local coffee shop.
Follow Patrick’s journey on Instagram @patrickmtennis.