The good times are here and professional golfers are relishing every bit of it as the first half of the year's Order of Merit List released during the week has indicated. As expected, the leaders' board has new names. Pius Anakali reports that apart from the changes on the merit list, it is also becoming difficult to pick a likely winner in any championship.
There is a new trend in the Nigeria pro circuit. Unlike in the past when one can easily predict where the leaders' board would be heading in a major competition, it is almost impossible these days to hazard a guess as more and more players are moving up the ladder.
In 2007-08 seaon, the tour was dominated by Andrew Oche Odoh, the consummate professional who picked his tour card in South Africa in 2006. However, the trend has changed even as Odoh battles the demon called "faulty swing", which is making his season miserable. Port Harcourt's Willy Gift and clubmate, Mike Ubi; Jos' Daniel Pam and Lateef Lasisi are the other golfers still struggling to make impact this season.
As the 2009 half-year Order of Merit list released during the week confirmed, rave of the moment, Christian Godfrey was adjudged the best professional golfer in the Nigerian tour.
His movement up the ladder was the aftermath of his record-setting outing at this year's CMCL Open Golf Championship. The huge leap has already earned him a spot at this year's World Cup qualifiers billed Malaysia in September.
Since he turned professional in 2001, Godfrey has always proved to be a player to watch. He's been very consistent, making cut in all the tournaments he participated in, he even topped the merit list briefly before nicking his first trophy at the President Open in Port Harcourt in 2007.
From then on, the Edo-born golfer has always contended in major outing but his biggest win ever was the CMCL in Abuja in June. The following week, still ridding on the crest of fame and fortune, Godfrey fired from all cylinders with an eye on the glamorous Pinnacle Matchplay title. He missed it narrowly to Zaria's Ali Abdulahi. That however did not stop him from climbing up the ladder. Today, he shares honour with the world champion, Tiger Woods. While Woods rules in America, Godfrey holds sway in the Nigerian budding tour.
One thing that fascinates most guys about Edet Umoh is his cleanliness. Fortunately, that cleanliness is complemented by his almost faultless swing. All combined, Umoh is a complete professional golfer, the type you can present in a public forum.
No wonder Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) considered him worthy of its support as it named him as one of its golf ambassadors. A plus for professional golf.
Like him or hate him, the fact is that Emos Korblah is a force to reckon with in the Nigeria Golf Tour. For years to come, his influence on the golf tour is a thing many will continue to talk about. He brought not just a new verve to the Nigerian tour but he is also behind the new competitive edge seen everywhere.
The Ghanaian import started his season winning the Suswan Cup in Otukpo and has had a couple of runner-ups in other outings. He is ranked third in Nigeria but sits atop the Order of Merit list in his home country, Ghana.
Years ago, the Nigeria pro circuit was dominated by Benin and Lagos professionals. Except for the occasional forays by the Abuja boys, pro golf was seen as a pastime of the southern golfers. Just like the morning sun that rises from the east, came Zaria-born Ali Abdulahi. At first it was like a joke. The thought of anyone coming from the far north to unseat prolific southern golfers was unthinkable.
That is actually the case today, since Abdulahi dumped Holland tour for Nigeria in 2008.
There are few players who exude the kind of confidence Ali brings to the tour. His relentless days on the practising range have paid off. He has two trophies to show for his effort this season. He won the Calabar Open in April and clipped Godfrey's wing for the top of the Pinnacle Matchplay in June. He is ranked fourth in the Order of Merit table.
Many raised their eyebrows when Gboyega Oyebanji missed the TPC cut in March. To many, that was unthinkable for a man who once ruled the tour. Distracted and disturbed, the big-hitting Teco went back to the drawing board and corrected his swing. The result came to the fore in Abuja last week when he stole a two-shot victory over the field in the maiden Memorial Cup which was decided at the IBB International Golf and Country club in Abuja.
That effort has also pushed him up the ladder in the Order of Merit list. He is in the fifth position behind Abdulahi.
Guess who comes next on the list? Meet the golf-playing duo of Oche and Martins Odoh. While Martins is sixth in ranking, his younger brother, the former Order of Merit winner, Oche Odoh, is ranked seventh. Their story is well known. They hail from Minna, Niger state, where they were introduced to the sport. In fact, no story of professional golf in Nigeria can be told without a mention of the valuable exploit of their late brother, Paul Odoh.
Nexr? He was a big name as an amateur but not many gave the chance to make much impact as a professional golfer. His height was seen as a disadvantage. But Bashiru Bakare thinks positive of himself. His self-belief is already paying off. He was second at the TPC in March and contended at the CMCL Open in Abuja. H is ranked eight in the Order of Merit list. If his current form is anything to go by, then he will move up the scale before the close of the season.