By Michael Nsubuga
Despite failing to make the cut on his first outing at the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Golf Tour, Deo Akope is determined to make a breakthrough at the prestigious event this year.
The MTN sponsored professional golfer plans to concentrate on the tour because he believes it is more lucrative.
He also harbours the dream of playing with world number one golfer Tiger Woods.
“If you finish in the top five after 12 events in the tour, you are automatically invited to play in some of the European tour events,” Akope said in an interview with New Vision.
“The first one is the Desert Classic where you have a chance to play with players like Woods.” The MENA tour starts with two events in Morocco before more action in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. One needs to play in all events to stand a chance of making more cuts, money and also aim at improving on their rankings.
“It was a totally new competitive environment because the last time I was in Dubai, we had just gone there to watch Woods, Akope added.
“Given what I saw, it is going to be my next home because I realized it is possible to get something there.
“So my first outing was really to taste the field and gauge the level of competition.”
The player added, “there is nothing to prove for me regionally and that is why I want to concentrate on the international scene and make an impact in one of these events.”
Akope competed in three events in Kenya last year, making cuts in the Jami Telecom and the KCB finals in Mombasa but failed to make the cut in the Kenya Open.
This year, he also wants to venture into the Nigerian tour which has total prize money of $100,000 (sh250m). He thinks more Ugandans should join him at such tours so that it becomes cost effective regarding issues like hiring an apartment.
Akope added that travelling in a group would also boost the players confidence during the tour.
In Dubai, he competed in the American Express Dirab Championship before heading to Al Badia Golf Club for the Maktoum Dubai Open. He wound up the tour with the Ras Al Khaumah Classic.
Akope further outlined his plans for this season. The player said that he will skip the Sunshine tour in South Africa. He explained that one needs to stay in the country for some time to stand a chance of qualifying because there is a pre-qualifier for each event which makes it tough. Akope, whose official world golf ranking is currently 1527, gets $24,000 (sh58m) per year from MTN to compete in all these events.
Amateurs team coach
Locally, he is coach of the national amateur team which he believes can do better if players can enter camp ahead of international competitions.
“One thing we lack at the national team is equipment,” Akope pointed out. He said most of the young players on the team lack proper equipment. Akope added that they also compete on few and short courses which makes their progress a bit tricky.
Emphasizing the need to go to camp, Akope said this approach would not be unique for golfers because it is done in other sports like football.
“It is only in camp where you can try to fix the shortcomings of some of these golfers,” he remarked.
Akope has more plans of his own this year. He intends to compete in the Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe where he gets automatic invitation. Akope said local professionals need regular competitions to maintain their form.
He added that they are trying to talk to corporate companies to create a pool of events throughout the year to keep professionals more busy.
“The reason why East Africans for example have failed to win the Kenya Open is because that is the only event they look forward to the whole year, Akope said. “When they are drawn with European players, they are beaten. We need something like an East African tour that will take us places. Akope said the KCB tour which is no more, would have been an ideal regional show.