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Zim’s black golf trailblazer

Death robbed him of his son who was evidently destined to scale dizzy heights on the international golf arena.

yesteryear profile with MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE

Lewis Muridzo-Chitengwa Snr holds a copy of his book titled: My life and my love for the great game of golf
Lewis Muridzo-Chitengwa Snr holds a copy of his book titled: My life and my love for the great game of golf

Before he passed on at the age of 26, three-time Zimbabwe Amateur champion Lewis Chitengwa Jr had sprung into international acclaim after he became the first non-American to win the Junior Orange Bowl International Golf Championship, beating Tiger Woods in the process as a junior back in 1992.

A year later Chitengwa Jr, who was in 2015 posthumously inducted into the Mercedes-Benz Southern African Golf Hall of Fame, became the first black golfer to win the South Africa Amateur Championships as a mere 18-year-old.

After spending countless hours honing his son’s golf skills at Wingate Golf Club, famed local golf coach, Lewis Muridzo-Chitengwa Snr was certain that he had uncovered a future Masters, US Open and British Open champion.

But Chitengwa Jr succumbed to meningitis while competing on the Canadian Tour before he could reach his full potential in 2001.

Despite the devastation of losing the son whom he expected to conquer the world one day, Muridzo-Chitengwa, who has been coaching golf in Zimbabwe for 59 years is still waiting for another world-beater.

At 71, the veteran coach, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Zimbabwe Golf Association, says he will not quit coaching until he has uncovered that one golfer who will make it to the top.

“I am waiting for that one guy who is going to win The Masters, The US Open and The British Open. I know Lewis could have done it had he lived longer, but I see that potential to produce top golfers here in Zimbabwe with the students I teach,” Muridzo told Standardsport in an exclusive interview at his home at Wingate Park Golf Club last week.

“I can’t retire just yet. What I want to see is more youngsters, especially blacks, taking up this game and playing as professionals. I would say Lewis is the best I have taught here in Zimbabwe and I taught him here at Wingate,” he continued.

Muridzo-Chitengwa Snr, a former touring professional golfer who played on the European Tour, Safari Tour and the Asian Tour, boasts of a galaxy of stars that have passed through his tutelage.

He contributed immensely to former World Number 1 Nick Price’s game, and also helped another major champion from Fiji, Vijay Singh. Zimbabwean player Brendon de Jonge is his former student.

“I taught Nick Price when I was still a caddy. I got the experience from caddying and would help a lot of golfers on tour when I became a professional,” he said before telling the story about how he helped Singh.

“I worked with Vijay Singh on his way to becoming the first nonwhite golfer to win the Nigeria Open. I met him in 1989 in Nigeria when he decided to come to Africa to improve his game on the then Safari Tour. When we came to Lusaka, Zambia he told me that he needed to finish in the top 15 of the competition and needed help with his swing.

“So we went to the tee-box for an hour and that same Sunday he shot a 71 and finished in the top 20. He gave me his shirt in gratitude.
The following year he came here at Wingate and I helped him round the course where he shot 68.

“The following week we went to Royal Harare and I helped him win the 1989 Zimbabwe Open at Chapman. After that he decided to go to the PGA Tour and he said he would remember me when he started making big money. But when he started winning he forgot all about me. He owes me money that guy,” he said with a straight face.

Such is Muridzo-Chitengwa’s reputation in golf as player and coach that he made friends with some of the world’s best golfing personalities in the mold of the legendary South African golfer, Gary Player and world-renowned golf instructor, David Leadbetter, to mention but a few.

Muridzo-Chitengwa only turned professional when he was 39 in 1985, having grown up in an environment where blacks were not allowed to play golf, let alone turn pro.

Being a professional enabled him to travel the world going to places such as the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Singapore and Malaysia, among others on the Asian Tour.

The European Tour ensured that he graced golf courses in France, Scotland, England and Germany, while the Safari Tour opened up trips to Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

Muridzo-Chitengwa has churned out at least 65 golfers who eventually got scholarships to the US, but he remains one of the most underrated coaches in the country.

It is virtually impossible to talk about Zimbabwean golf without mentioning his name.

His journey in golf is one that was full of trials, tribulations and a fair share of success.

“I started playing in Highfield on makeshift courses in 1958 where we would dig our own putting holes. A caddie master, Phillip, at Royal Salisbury Golf Club urged us to start caddying there when I was just 12 and by 1961, I was already teaching others,” he recalled.

Muridzo-Chitengwa was one of the people who started Gleneagles Golf Club, situated in the now high density surburb of Budiriro 5. That was where blacks got a chance to play the game.

Gleneagles, ironically named after the world-famous Scottish championship golf course, was the first golf club for non-whites, who were then not allowed to play the sport, or be affiliated to the Mashonaland Golf Union, hence it was populated by mostly blacks, Indians, and Coloureds.

While he taught golf to all kinds of people, Muridzo-Chitengwa decided he was also going to teach his five children, but it was the late Lewis Jr who excelled.

“Lewis remains my best ever student and among all my children, he is the one who really loved golf. Here was a guy I had to spend as much as 15 hours per day on the course with. No wonder he was the world junior champion and achieved a lot in a short space of time,” the Wingate resident pro said.

“Although all my children played golf, the only difference was Lewis loved it, while the rest were lazy when it came to golf.”

Lewis’s older siblings, Helga and Elias, played but chose different career paths, while Rhoda and Farai excelled in golf but did not necessarily achieve more than Lewis.

Currently, Rhoda is the Zimbabwe ladies team coach, while Farai, a former golf director at Tanzania Golf Union, is currently the personal golf trainer to the Dar es Salaam-based business mogul Mohammed Dewji.

Last year Muridzo-Chitengwa released a book titled: My life and my love for the great game of golf, which tells the story of a passionate black golfer during the colonial era.

It also speaks about his life as a professional golfer touring different countries, as well as the tragic death of his son who had emerged from a humble background to beat the world’s best against the odds.

Muridzo-Chitengwa made sure to send the book to some of his famous friends, including Price, Player, Leadbetter as well as Woods.

His passion to produce the world’s best golfers continues to burn. The star he is waiting for may not be his 96-year-old student Beryl Thal or Eileen Gaskell (84), but could be among the success hungry young kids he teaches at Wingate.

While he believes that bad coaching is killing the game in Zimbabwe as the country continues to play second fiddle to South Africa, the 71-year-old coach is sure about one thing:

“All the best players in this country came from Wingate”.

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