•The 31-year-old has build a reputation for excellence and is among the top 10 best professional golfers in the country who ply their trade on the prestigious Safari Tour.
•Ooko further adds that caddies also savour the opportunity to play among themselves on Mondays to ensure that they don’t become rusty.
Has it ever leapt to your mind why caddies produce the finest professionals and single-handicap amateurs in Kenya and across the globe?
And how about caddies playing better golf than the club members who happen to be their bosses’ on the course?
Well, Golf Park pro Eric Ooko has answers to these questions.
As a humble caddie at Golf Park in 2009, Ooko rose from obscurity to become an amateur of national repute. Today, the 31-year-old has build a reputation for excellence and is among the top 10 best professional golfers in the country who ply their trade on the prestigious Safari Tour.
The soft-spoken pro quips caddies are more familiar with the demands of the sport because they spend more time on the course, a fact that enables them to offer prerequisite assistance to seasoned and rookie golfers in equal measure.
“Caddies spend much time on the course as opposed to club members. They also play a pivotal role in imparting the much-needed technical finesse to the member and guest golfers and even guide them through various facets of the game including the choice of golf clubs like irons, sandwiches and wedges,” he says.
Ooko further adds that caddies also savour the opportunity to play among themselves on Mondays to ensure that they don’t become rusty. “What’s more, we play in organised tournaments to try and gauge the quality of goodness on the course,” says Ooko.
Whereas it’s the golfers who bask in all the glamour and wealth that comes with their triumph on the course, Ooko points out that caddies deserve credit for pulling the strings behind the scenes.
“The best golfers in the world ply their trade on the PGA Tour and make lots of money from playing. And behind every great golfer, there is a great caddie who carries the golfer’s bag of clubs, cleans the clubs and balls, makes the bunkers and sand traps easier to play in by raking them,” says Ooko.
He lets us in on the finer details of a caddie’s role: “The caddies measure the distance to the pin, remove the pin in the hole and are like equipment managers and trainers.”
So how did Ooko’s career flourish in the noble game of golf?
Ooko started playing the sport at Golf Park in Nairobi’s Racecourse way back in 2009 as a caddie. He used to caddie for Jacob Okello in the Kenya Open and at various pro events.
Ooko is setting the bar higher and believes he is about to start reaping the fruits of his determination and hard work on the golf course, adding that he has his sights firmly fixed on plying his trade abroad where he hopes to battle it out with the finest names in the sport.
“I have had a dream that in the next five years to come, I will be a regular in the European Tour where I will have the chance to brush shoulders with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Brooks Koekpa— because we know we can do it with support from sponsors and more play time. Though I know I’m not that young, we just need to focus and practice very hard,” says Ooko.
Ooko’s entry into golf was purely by chance. He was ushered into the trade by an acquaintance who served in a pro shop.
“I was introduced into golf by one of my friends who was working in the pro shop. I started as a caddie at Golf Park in 2009. I got my first handicap in 2009 (handicap 19) and that’s how I got interested in golf a lot more.”
To grasp the basics of the game, he enrolled for amateur tourneys from the year 2009. “I played in amateur tournaments between 2009 and 2014. In 2010, I finished number 2 as an amateur in Sigona Bowl which was a round of the Golfer of the Year series (now KAGC).”
“In 2011, I finished number 2 on Muthaiga Open and in 2012, I won Jamii Telecom in Karen, where I was the best amateur.”
Four years down the line, he would be bagging his first silverware and an opportunity to represent the country in a regional tournament down south.
“In 2013, I also won a number of tournaments at Royal Nairobi Golf Club. Then in 2014, I was the best amateur in the country. I also represented Kenya in Cape Town, South Africa during the African Zone Six where by I was named the best amateur and won all my games,” says Ooko.
Ooko kicked off his professional journey in style upon returning from Cape Town in July 2014. “As a professional, I won the first tournament in Eldoret which was sponsored by the Nation Media Group. In 2015, I joined the Sunshine Tour, which is the big deal in South Africa. The same year, I played a lot of Sunshine Tour events in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.”
In 2016, Ooko played a lot of tournaments outside Kenya as Sunshine Tour member and even in the Kenya Open which was then a Challenge Tour event.
“In 2017, I joined the West African Golf Tour. In 2018, I played many tournaments in South Africa, Zambia, Uganda and indeed the Kenya Open. In 2019, I played in the Kenya Open and I also featured in the Malawi Open,” says Ooko, adding: “Through Safari Tour I am now ranked among the top player in East and Central Africa.”
Ooko reveals that professional golfers in Kenya have been struggling with sponsorship. With Safari Tour now taking deep roots in the region, we have an opportunity to compete prize money on a regular basis.’
“I used to caddie for someone by the name of Mutua Gathendu who supported me big time. He is the one who made me take my golf to the next level. Caddies go through a lot challenges but God is always great that they get through.
Unlike players outside Africa, he says, golfers in the region must contend with digging deep into their pockets to cater for their own needs.
“Being a professional golfer in the region is one of the hardest things given that you become an independent person whereby you pay for everything you do on the course. And if you don’t play well, you go home empty handed. So you have to play well to attract Corporate sponsorship.”
He is already basking in glory having already shattered a course record. “I have a course record at Royal Nairobi, where I shot 12 under par on 18 holes,” says Ooko. During his spare time, while away from the fairways, Ooko spends much time on the pool table. He also likes dancing.
Date of Birth: January 16, 1989
Club: Golf Park
Lives in: Nairobi
Professional debut: 2014
Amateur Career: 2009 to 2014
Caddie Career: 2009-2011
2010: 2nd overall Sigona Bowl.
2011: 2nd Muthaiga Open
2012: Best amateur Jamii Telecom Tournament at Karen Country Club
2014: Represented Kenya in African Zone VI
2015: Joined the Sunshine Tour
Current Safari Tour Ranking: 5th
2019/20 Safari Tour Ranking: