The fraternity should still be trying to gasp for its breath after Ronald Otile saved its blushes by denying determined Kenyans to win the 77th Castle Lite Uganda Amateur Golf Open title at the par-71 Entebbe course on Saturday.
Well, that sigh of relief was too pricey as Otile needed to come from six strokes behind leader Kenyan John Karichu to savour delicious glory with his third Open crown in four years on a dramatic day he turned 23.
Few would take a well-packaged recipe of pressure on a birthday.
“Winning this for on my birthday was not so easy,” a smiling yet more relieved Otile said in an interview, “I went there to do it for myself when I was out on the course.” But the victory superceeded all for the Tooro-bred lad.
“This feels sweeter, I have never chased six strokes. It was the hardest to win (of all),” remarked Otile after he returned an aggregate score of 285 gross to receive his iconic trophy from Castle Lite brand manager Julian Ssentamu and Uganda Golf Union president Innocent Kihika in company of tournament director John Katto on the 18th green.
When the South Africa-based Ugandan won the Open in 2015, many could have taken it for a one-off even if it was exquisite.
Then back-to-back gongs in 2016 moved a few into submitting to his class but a third title marked Otile’s legendary status in the history of Uganda’s amateur golf, joining three-time winners like Deo Akope.
Having started the final day of the 72-hole competition at top of the leaderboard, Otile’s three-shot overnight lead over Karichu was quickly trimmed after he made bogeys on the first and second holes in the pressure group that also had another Ugandan Herman Mutebi.
When Limuru Golf and Country Club’s Karichu carded a birdie on par-4 Hole No.5, Otile’s slim lead faded and he fell a shot behind with a bogey on the par-3 Hole No.6. Here, the gallery began to grow.
Karichu then had a bogey as Otile picked a par on par-3 Hole No.10, the pair now all-square. The drama was heightened on par-5 Hole No.11.
As the gallery walked through the cricket oval, Otile’s tee-box shot was heard through the leaves, settling in the right woods while Karichu’s was safe.
Karichu smartly matched his swagger with a birdie while Otile’s second shot stayed in the tree, third out then into a bunker, another onto the nearby Hole No.7 tee-box before he registered a quadro-bogey.
“Seriously, No.11 wasn’t friendly to me,” Otile said of a hole where he had carded birdie, birdie and par on the previous days.
With seven holes to go, Otile was now five shots behind Karichu, but also, now a stroke behind another Kenyan hot blade Edwin Mudanyi who in the second pressure group.
Here, the bigger part of partisan crowd seemed to have given up. “It is gone,” one said. “You can’t play like that on a final day and win it,” the murmurs began as they walked up to the green of the 12th.
On the par-4 13th, Otile sunk further down to a six-stroke deficit as his par was not good enough to match Karichu’s flawless and neat curling 5-metre putt.
It would then strike that both Otile and Karichu had donned blue but only Otile was seeing blues. More of his fans grew weaker in optimism.
But it is here that Otile remembered the significance of the day. “I wasn’t committed to my shots but knew I was capable of reducing the strokes.” Otile had worked with his caddy Douglas Mugisha in the previous two Open victories even when they lost the sudden-death play-off to Ronald Rugumayo last year.
Five holes to go, Otile came out of a bunker to card a birdie to little applause as Karichu nicked a par on the 14th, reducing the gap to five strokes. By now, Mutebi was now acting like a best man in the group.
Otile gathered more rhythm on par-5 Hole No.15 as he collected a birdie while Karichu’s second shot went across the road that heads to Botanical Beach, losing two strokes for a bogey.
“That is the hole where I lost it,” Karichu would later say after an agonizing capitulation. “I felt a bit unlucky there and later felt the pressure,” the three-time Kenya Amateur Golfer of the Year said.
Now chasing three shots, a charged Otile quickly sunk a 7-metre putt, chest-thumping loud to decibels of the thrilled gallery and a deflating Karichu double-putted for bogey on par-3 No.16.
With a few more descending to the course from club house on hearing the updates, Otile’s star continued to rise when he almost sunk an eagle on par-4 No.17.
He took a par whereas Karichu struggled from the edge of the right bunker to bogey.
They were now both level facing the club house but Otile and Karichu needed a birdie and par respectively on No.18. Otile’s gods were on time.