BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
MUTARE has over the years become a treadmill for golf talent in Zimbabwe.
Several players, who trace their roots to the city, have risen from very humble beginnings and gone on to successful careers as touring professionals or as coaches.
Perhaps the most recognizable player to come out of the Eastern Highlands in recent years is the very talented local professional golfer Robson Chinhoi.
Chinhoi has gone from humble beginnings as a caddy at Mutare’s Hillside Golf Club to become one of the country’s most promising stars.
He has won several victories locally, on the Kenya-based Safari Tour and on the African circuit, where he won the Kinshasa Open in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week.
Chinhoi has become something of an inspirational figure to young children in his hometown. And one of Mutare’s new golf talents who hopes to emulate if not surpass Chinhoi’s achievements is the equally talented and confident Kudzi Mandava.
Mandava, 17, is currently one of the country’s brightest golfers, having excelled individually and for the country’s junior and senior teams.
Mandava recently enhanced her status as one of the continent’s top junior golfers after helping Zimbabwe finish fifth out of more than 20 participating nations in the biannual All Africa Challenge Trophy competition in Tanzania.
A few months earlier, Mandava was part of the Zimbabwe women’s junior team that finished third at the All-Africa Junior Golf Challenge in Egypt.
However, Mandava’s journey to becoming one of the brightest golf prospects in the country was no picnic as she had to overcome obstacles in pursuit of her golfing dream.
Raised by a single mother after her father passed away when she was 10, Mandava did not have the privileged upbringing enjoyed by most of her peers.
“My father died when I was 10, which left my family in a vulnerable state. It was not a great start in life, but the perfect motivation for the desire and determination to provide a better life for my family and others,” Mandava told Sports Hub in an interview.
“In the midst of this chaotic and difficult start, my mother stood still as a pillar of strength and hope that made me the person I am today and I would like to share that with the rest of the world.”
Mandava’s golf adventure started by chance. As a 2nd year pupil at Chancellor Primary School, she only accompanied her friends for golf lessons at the Hillside Golf Club so that they could play on the swings at the facility after their compulsory golf lessons.
Under the mentorship of Mutare-based golf coach Amos Kunyeredza, young Mandava quickly became one of Hillside Golf Club’s top junior prospects.
Her success soon caught the attention of now Manicaland Ladies Golf Association President, Poly Crewe, who facilitated a golf scholarship, allowing her to focus on her studies at Sakubva High 1 while competing regularly on the local junior circuit.
“I played my first tournament in 2017 and won the best player in my division award. Winning Manicaland Ladies Strokeplay was also one of my breakthroughs in 2020. I had some top 5s in Zimbabwe Ladies Golf Union golf tournaments in recent years,” she said.
“I hope to have more wins and breakthroughs throughout my golfing career. Although there have been many ups, golf is a tough sport and there have also been tough times, but I accepted that there will be disappointments as well as moments of pure exhilaration in my career. The journey has been so exciting yet frustrating, but the dream of becoming the greatest golfer remains the same.
Mandava’s success in local women’s golf tournaments has also earned her selection in the national team, representing the country in countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Egypt and most recently Tanzania since 2019.
Probably the biggest stepping stone for Mandava came last year when she was recruited by Leadbetter Golf Academy Zimbabwe, based at the Royal Harare Golf Club, part of an exclusive chain of 40 academies around the world run by world renowned golf coach David Leadbetter. , who grew up in Zimbabwe.
Ryan Cairns – a Zimbabwean Sunshine Tour winner is the director of the academy whose main goal is to pave the way for its elite junior golfers to earn student-athlete scholarships at top universities across the United States.
“The Royal Harare-based David Leadbetter Golf Academy has had a huge impact on my career while its Academy Director Ryan Cairns, who is also a tour professional, has been my greatest motivation,” Mandava said.
“From coaching and physical training classes to psychological sessions, the academy offers exciting and fun experiences on and off the course like never before. So, rather than just doing the physical part, the academy plays a vital role in making sure we are mentally prepared for practice rounds and tournaments. The equipment used helped me a lot in controlling the distance and thanks to these changes I gained confidence when I have a club in hand.
“Coaches are always there to help during weekdays. Plus, I’ve also created long-standing relationships with my colleagues,” she said.
Mandava believes her time at Leadbetter Golf Academy Zimbabwe has given her the experience and skills she needs as she pursues her goal of earning a golf scholarship in the United States before turning professional.
“The academy is a very good premise to show your talent and prepare for professional golf. One of my biggest goals for next year is to get a scholarship for a golf school in America. Thanks to the help of the David Leadbetter Academy, we were successful in sending introductory videos to college coaches in America for recruitment. I believe that college golf would provide me with opportunities to pursue my dream as a professional golfer and also to ‘to learn different cultures,’” she said.