April 2013

Lonene sizzles in Mpumalanga

Lonene Khoza dreams of playing against his idols Tiger Woods and Louis Oosthuizen

Mpumalanga teenager Lonene Khoza is a fierce football supporter and loves kicking a ball around with his friends after school or on the weekend. Yet, the 15-year-old SAGDB golfer is quick to point out that soccer is a hobby, golf is a career.

"I love soccer and I was pretty good at it, but a few years ago, I had to choose between soccer and golf and the choice was already made," said the youngster from Thulamahashe Location east of Nelspruit. "These days, if I have a choice between playing golf or soccer, the clubs win every time."

Khoza joined the SAGDB programme in Mpumalanga last year and made enormous strides under Stephan van der Watt, the SAGDB's provincial coach for the Northern Provinces.

In December, he was selected to represent Mpumalanga at the South African Junior Inter-Provincial at Paarl Golf Club and in March, he represented the SAGDB National Elite Squad at the fourth annual Triangular Invitational at Randpark Golf Club against a team of South Africa's top juniors and a Scottish side comprised of the Scottish Golf Union's National and Transitional Squad players.

"It was such a fantastic experience playing against the Scots and the top SA juniors," Khoza said. "You can only really improve with competition, because that is where you learn what you have to work on and where you need to improve. I was very excited to be given the chance to represent the SAGDB and I learned so much from the experience."

The youngster was first introduced to golf by his father, Jacob, in 2007.

"My dad and I used to go to a soccer field behind Thulamahashe to hit balls," he explained. "I just fell in love with golf right away. When my dad had time, he would drive me to Hazyview or Malelane Golf Club to play and it was such an incredible treat."

"A few years ago, he built a driving range in Thulamahashe, so that more children from the area could have a chance to learn to play golf. Since Jastice (Mashego) began the SAGDB programme in the area, a lot more children have started to play. I, myself, have improved a lot since I joined the programme and started coaching with Stephan."

Khoza practices at least three times a week and has won a couple of Monthly Mugs at Malelane Golf Club. The teenager said that the SAGDB has taught him many life lessons in the short time he has been in the programme.

"I have improved my handicap to four to and my aim this year is to try to get down to scratch," he said. "I am a much better player, but it's not just that my game has improved. I have learned how to focus better on the golf course, how to stay in moment and how not to get ahead of myself."

"Stephan also teaches us etiquette on the golf course and how important it is to stay honest and play within the rules of golf. Golf is a very honourable sport. You have to show your opponents respect and you have to be courteous. These are all things that make golf special to me."

Khoza spends a lot of time studying his two idols, Tiger Woods and Louis Oosthuizen.

"Hopefully I will be able to pursue a career in professional golf once I matriculate," he said. "In the meantime, I follow Tiger and Louis and dream of joining them one day. They are both great players with great swings. They have incredible focus and they never give up the fight. That really inspires me."

While he dreams of turning professional, Khoza's immediate goals are to perform and improve on the the golf course and in school.

"I still have a lot of years ahead of me to play golf, but for now, I need to keep my grades up and get my handicap down. There is still plenty of time left to chase Tiger and Louis."