KAMPALA. In his early teenage days at Kibiito Primary School in Kabarole District some eight or so years ago, Ronald Otile never cared much about golf.
“I would just see guys play since my home was in the (Fort Portal) police barracks and the barracks is just next to the golf course,” Otile told Daily Monitor after adding the Professional Uganda Open title to his Amateur gong won a week earlier.
But thanks partly to Titus Okwong – another national team player and Tooro clubmate, Otile did not hide from his calling for long.
“We were all sons of policemen but Titus was already playing some golf,” said Otile, “So he would always ask me to go with him and carry bags.”
Okwong chipped in: “We were actually neighbours in the barracks and for me I was already a caddy in 2007.
“Otile started helping me carry bags. Then I took him to the club and they accepted him. Soon he started to caddy for me.”
Like most lowly starters, Otile did not immediately hold a golf club. “We would use sticks to hit balls because the club officials feared we could break golf clubs,” he said.
Tooro Golf Club (TGC) promotes aspiring young players every year to artisan members, who do not pay membership fee but help on the course. “In 2010, I played well in the Caddy Promotional Tournament and I was promoted to an artisan member,” said Otile.
Today, the 19-year-old is all about the game. Otile has since grown in leaps and bounds, competing in international junior engagements with his first in Bostwana some three years ago, then Mauritius and Zambia.
And in a space of four months, Otile has helped the senior national team to their maiden Africa Zone VI Golf Championship trophy in April, and won the Amateur and Professional Uganda Open titles inside one week.
Boasting of a priceless tee shot, ability to get himself out of trouble almost effortlessly, and some decent putting Otile has breathed new life to the golfing family.
To turn and not turn pro
Otile himself has ruled out turning pro for now. “It is not my priority now,” he said. But opinions locally and internationally are almost in unison that something fundamental must be done to help the senior six vacationist from Mpanga Secondary School aance his career.
“He hits the ball a long distance,” said Zambian Muthuya Madalitso, who Otile beat by a stroke to win the pros trophy, “He putts good, chips good and he’s fearless. Most importantly he’s got a good attitude. It all boils down to that.”
Madalitso added: “He was actually telling me he was trying to go to a golf school of excellence in South Africa and I think that is a good step.
“He will learn about golf, he will get his education and he will get a chance to play tournament golf with some of those top South African amateur golfers.
“He will be able to gauge himself how far he’s come along and that is when the question of going pro will be answered.”
Otile had earlier hinted at a conversation he had with the president of Uganda Golf Union, Kiryowa Kiwanuka. “He told me that they were organizing something for me as an appreciation,” Otile intimated.
“He said they want to take me to a school in South Africa both for academics and golf.”
Speaking at the prize giving ceremony at UGC on Saturday where an Otile Fund to help the player’s education and golfing career was formed, Kiwanuka agreed that “the future of golf is in these young men, so we must get the juniors interested in the sport.”
National team coach Amos Kamya benefitted from such efforts by UGC members when he was taken to a golf school in South Africa after landing the 2006 Uganda Amateur Open title.
Michael Palmer, a South African golfer, who played with Otile in the first pressure group, thinks this is the right time for the Ugandan to move.
“Twenty’s actually good age and the boy is quite talented,” he told Daily Monitor. “A golf school in South Africa, the United States or Scotland will do him a great deal.”
Deo Akope, the Uganda Professional Golfers Association (UPGA)aptain and two time pros champion, also has no doubt about Otile’s prospect.
“He is going to be the new face of golf in Uganda if guided well,” said Akope in one of the social media groups. Kiwanuka aptly responded. “He will be well guided.”
A son of a policeman and policewoman from Lira and Soroti in Northern Uganda, Otile was born and raised in Fort Portal. The family lived at Fort Portal Police Barracks until his dad retired.
His mum died in 2000s while his dad, Alfonse Ochen, passed on shortly after Otile and Uganda had clinched the Zone VI championships in April.
Otile uses the “decent” tokens he gets from playing golf to pay school fees for his younger brother at at Mpanga Secondary and rent the house, where the two stay, on the outskirts of Fort Portal Town.
His other young brother stays with their uncle, who also pays his sibling’s school fees, while their eldest brother lives in Lira and young sister with the step mum in Mbarara.
Whereas Otile’s pros feat raised more awes and gasps, the youngster relishes the first one more.
“My happiest moment was when I won the tournament I was supposed to play and win (Amateur Open). I’m happy for this (Pros Open) as well although I was not participating to win the money (Shs22.5m).
“I may not show it but inside am happy for it and it’s good that I have proved to people that we amateurs are also good. I just have to keep my focus so that I don’t let myself down.”
Otile and Madalitso did enjoy playing together in the pressure group and the chemistry as they went after each other hole by hole was evident in the several handshakes and smiles during play.
One such occasion was on the final day when Madalitso struck a birdie from about 60 feet to go on the 18th level with Otile.
“Man, I smiled and told him ‘you are good. It’s unbelievable you getting a birdi,’ because it was a very long putt. I also enjoyed it,” said Otile.
“The guy is disciplined and is a good player. Before the game, he would aise me that ‘you are a good player, but do this, take this easy. Don’t mess up.’
Otile dedicated his wins to “my late dad and mum,” siblings and his fans. The country will hope for more dedications.
Otile fact file
Name: Ronald Otile
Age: 19 (Born September 22, 1995)
School: S.6 Vacationist
Honours: 2014 EA Challenge Trophy, 2015 Africa Zone V1 title, 2015 Amateur Open, 2015 Professional Open
Feats: First and youngest amateur to win a Professionals Open, second youngest to win Amateur Open, first golfer from Tooro to win Open
Local idol: Deo Akope
International idol: Matteo Manassero (Italian pro)
Putting: Says he putts with the glove on because he finds it comfortable