Sanlam Women’s SA Stroke Play gives Qwa-Qwa girls their wings

Lali Stander reports

While Nobuhle Dlamini from Swaziland celebrated her emphatic 10-shot victory in the Sanlam Women’s SA Stroke Play Championship, two bubbly teenagers from Qwa-Qwa in the Free State had reasons of their own to float on cloud nine at Umhlali Country Club.

The two Tuks Golf Academy students, Zanele Mazibuko (left) and Ntsoaki Mokoena, were celebrating their debut in one of the most prestigious tournaments on the women’s amateur golf circuit, something that was definitely not on the radar two years ago.

“Two years ago Zanele and I were still in Phuthaditjhaba, playing golf for the South African Golf Development Board,” explained 19-year-old Mokoena.

“We both had high handicaps and we were not even thinking about competing in national tournaments. Then the call came from Women’s Golf and two years later, we made it Umhlali and to the SA Stroke Play on merit. And we even got to fly for the first time.

“Although our results were not as good as what we hoped for, we still can’t stop smiling. The whole experience has been a dream.”

And the dream could continue for 17-year-old Mazibuko. If her results in national events continue to improve, she could make the Free State team for this year’s Women’s 72-Hole Team Championships and the SA Inter-Provincial. Last minute arrangements were made when the Free State Union President, Michelle Holt, watched her play in the second round this week and insisted that Mazibuko needed to compete in the Free State Provincial Championships this week-end.

Mokoena and Mazibuko were in their early teens when they enrolled in the SAGDB’s Free State programme. They were taught the basics of the game by Qwa-Qwa coach, Bentley Selepe. Having monitored their progress, Free State regional manager Ratha Motaung began entering them in local tournaments and it wasn’t long before their individual performances caught the attention of Womens Golf South Africa (WGSA).

“We were offered two residential scholarships through the Department of Sport & Recreation to attend the Tuks Golf Academy at the University of Pretoria,” said WGSA president Cynthia Rayner. “We decided to offer them to Ntsoaki and Zanele.”

Here 17-year-old Mazibuko picks up the story and one can hardly believe that this is the same shy, introvert teenager that could barely speak English when she arrived in Pretoria in 2010. One is immediately struck by her poise and confidence as she talks about the last two years at the Tuks Academy and their journey to Umhlali.

“It was so, so hard at the beginning,” she said. “There were times we didn’t know if we would be able to stick it out. We had to work extremely hard, both academically and on the golf course, to keep our scholarships. It took time to adjust to living in res and both got homesick.”

Mazibuko explained that their day starts at 05h30 with either a gym session or nine holes of golf before school. The programme also includes coaching sessions, practice, psychology and nutrition sessions. Studying and homework has to be fitted in after school as well.

“At first we struggled in school. We also had to get used to the sports program, too, which is very intensive. But we got extra tuition in school and we worked with amazing coaches and now the HPC is our home away from home.”

While Mazibuko is in grade 11, Mokoena will be matriculating this year.

Tuks Golf Academy Head Coach Llewellyn van Leeuwen, who has been keeping a close eye on the pair since they arrived, was thrilled to see the pair debut in the A-Division at the Sanlam Women’s Amateur SA Stroke Play.

“Ntsoaki plays off five and Zanele off six now,” he said. “In the club competitions, they regularly shoot in the low 70s, but they still need to adjust to the pressure of the big stage. That’s why events like the Sanlam Women’s SA Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play are so important. These events really give them the chance to gain much needed experience so they can further develop their games and learn to cope with pressure.”

Mazibuko shot rounds of 86-80-88 to tie for 70th while Mokoena tied for 85th with rounds of 88-85-87. “I know they were disappointed with their results, but I think, given that only Nobuhle Dlamini was the only player to break par in two of the three rounds, they both did very well,” said Van Leeuwen. “I am extremely proud of them.”

Rayner said the leap of faith was well worth the risk.

“You always run the risk that the investment won’t pay off when you develop athletes and we certainly took a risk when we took two young teenagers from their rural, single parent homes to the HPC in Pretoria,” she said. “But Ntsoaki and Zanele both embraced the opportunity as the chance in a lifetime. They have really blossomed. We are thrilled that we have been able to provide them with the opportunity to improve their academic and golf careers.

“More provincial championships are on the cards for them this year and our goal is to see them on the WGSA Player Rankings in the near future.”

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