South African golf legend Gary Player led the special tributes to Zimbabwean golfer Lewis Chitengwa (Jnr), when he was posthumously inducted into the Mercedes-Benz Southern African Golf Hall of Fame at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town recently.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Player — who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of golf — said Chitengwa’s induction alongside southern Africa’s golfing greats was a clear reminder that Africa could produce a black world-class player in the mould of Tiger Woods.
Chitengwa — who passed away 13 years ago — while playing in the Canadian Tour, was recognised for his immense contribution to golf during a glittering ceremony attended by numerous golfing legends
“This year I want to see us produce the next [Tiger] Woods. And we can do it. There is a man standing here today, from Zimbabwe whose son Lewis was on his way to being that champion,” Player said.
“In fact, he beat Woods twice in America. He won the Gary Player Orange Bowl Tournament in America that is named after me. He was a collegiate champion in America, which is an unbelievable effort. He was playing the Canadian Tour and died at the age of 26. Well we will meet him up there one day and I can tell you he’s the leading money-winner up there right now,” he said.
In 1992 the younger Chitengwa defeated Tiger Woods head-to-head in the final round of the Orange Bowl junior championship, and a year later became the first black golfer to win the South African Amateur Championship.
A two-time All-American college career followed at Virginia before he turned pro. But in 2001, only 26, Chitengwa died in tragic circumstances.
Showing flu-like symptoms after the second round of the Canadian Tour’s Edmonton Open, Chitengwa Jnr slipped into a coma and died from a rare and deadly form of meningitis.
Lewis’ brother Farayi, who attended the induction ceremony together with his father Lewis Muridzo (Snr) and other family members said they were touched by the support shown by the southern African golfing community.
“It was just unbelievable,” Farayi told Standardsport. “The support from everyone there was just amazing. There were people who had travelled from different parts of the world, from Canada, USA among others to witness his induction. As a family, this means a lot because it shows that although Lewis is gone, he has left a legacy and the whole world is still remembering him,” said Farayi.
Canadian national Alan Rae, who first met Chitengwa (Jnr) in Vancouver while he was representing Zimbabwe in the 1992 World Amateur Team Championships aged just 17, also shared his experiences with the late golf prodigy at the gala ceremony.
“In 1992 Nick Price asked me to take care of the Zimbabwe men’s team competing in the Eisenhower Cup played in Vancouver, in particular the youngest member of the team, Lewis who was just 17 at the time. We became instant friends and Lewis finished 22nd in the event.
“While Lewis was at the University of Virginia he would spend part of his summer holidays with me and my family in Vancouver and became a member of our family.”
Rae also recounted the touching story of Chitengwa’s 1993 SA Amateur Championship victory, which is often referred to as the African golfing equivalent of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s colour barrier.
“To exemplify the character of Lewis I will tell you a private story Lewis shared with me one day. When he arrived at East London Golf Club in 1993 to play in the fabled South African Amateur, he was denied entry to the club’s entrance by a gentleman who said that caddies had to enter though the back entrance,” Rae said.
“Lewis politely insisted that he was a player and not a caddy but the gentleman insisted caddies had to enter at the rear.
Lewis was incredibly well brought up by his mother and father so he entered through the rear entrance and the rest is, as they say, history.
“He became historically the first black man to win the South African Amateur. People flocked from far and wide to witness this accomplishment and when Lewis encountered the gentleman who denied him entry and who now wanted everything to do with him, Lewis politely shook his hand and thanked him for his hospitality,” said Rae.