Black caddie-turned pro makes waves

February 29th, 2008 - 1:25 am ICT by admin  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Gurgaon, Feb 28 (IANS) Golf enthusiasts at the DLF Golf and Country Club could have been forgiven for scrambling around to find who the player was when James Kamte hit a great second shot with a five-iron that landed just five feet from the pin for a closing eagle on the par-5 ninth. That was his 18th hole of the day in the first round of the Johnnie Walker Classic golf Thursday, and it gave him a card of four-under 68 and a place on the leaderboard in the opening session.

After the morning session he was tied third behind co-leaders Shamim Khan of India, another caddie-turned pro, and Argentine Daniel Vancsik, who shot 67 each.

It was just 10 days ago that Kamte, in his first full year on the European Tour, came close to victory with a tied third at Astro Enjoy Indonesia Open in Jakarta. He shot 16-under and ended behind winner Felipe Aguilar and second-placed Jeev Milkha Singh.

However, Kamte, a compact golfer, standing just five foot six, is unique in the sense that earlier this season he came through the Qualifying School to become the first black South African golfer to earn full playing rights on the European Tour since the days of Vincent Tshabalala in 1976-77.

Talking of his eagle, Kamte said: “I thought as I walked up on the 18th, I just marked my ball and I just looked and I saw a lot of three-unders. So I said on the tee, if I make this one, I will be the only one who will be 4-under, and fortunately I made the putt.”

A former caddie, Kamte was also an outstanding footballer in his younger days. He started out in golf around 1997. Speaking about his early days, Kamte said: “I think it was about 1997, roundabout there, I started off as a caddie. So as I just went along, I took it up seriously about 2001, and I started practising after that.

“And the only thing I like about the game, it was more mental and just only me and the golf course. It wasn’t more about the team game. I sort of like individual games. That’s one of the reasons that inspired me to play the game. I’m a very positive person and I like competition.”

He was caddying between 1992 and 1995 at the St. Francis Bay Golf Club in South Africa. Then a friend of his joined St. Francis Bay Golf Club as a member, which inspired him too. “So I thought I should also become a member. But the worst thing about it, I never played. Probably caddied more than I played. I played like four times a year, which was not really playing golf.”

His big jump came when he went to the Nedbank Foundation late 1999. “I had the sort of privilege to play week-in, week-out in amateur ranks and then the foundation helped me.”

Now Kamte, who won a tournament on the South African Sunshine Tour last year, has full rights to play on the European Tour. A couple of god results like the one in Jakarta and he could be on his way to keeping his card and making a big name for himself.

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