Aaron Rai sealed an impressive and emotional victory at the Barclays Kenya Open, with his Kenya-born mother tearfully embracing her champion son on the 18th green at Muthaiga Golf Club in front of rapturous crowds.
The Englishman was adopted by the Nairobi faithful as one of their own this week and responded with some scintillating golf on the final day, making seven birdies in a round of 65 as his 17 under par total was three shots better than nearest rival Adrien Saddier.
The 22 year old narrowly missed out on a European Tour card last year when he finished 18th on the Road to Oman but, with victory at the European Challenge Tour’s season opener, he now tops the Rankings, albeit with 26 tournaments still to come.
With President Uhuru Kenyatta arriving to watch the closing holes, Rai put on a presidential display of golf, applying early leaderboard pressure to his rivals with birdies on the second and third and barely putting a foot wrong all day.
That his victory fell on Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom only added to the emotions as both mother and son were in tears, and Rai revealed that this was the first time his mother had returned to the country of her birth since she left it in 1970.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “It couldn’t have been a better event to win, with it being Kenya, and with the support of all the Kenyan people as well. There’s a big Indian population here I think and it was amazing having my mum here.
“She was born here and this was the first time she’s come back to Kenya in the 47 years since she left so I couldn’t have picked a better tournament for this to happen.
“It’s been amazing to have her here. It was something that we planned a couple of months ago – she wanted to come last year but couldn’t unfortunately because of work commitments but I think she picked a good year, the way the week turned out.
“There were some butterflies throughout, and I guess a bit of that is natural, but I think we dealt with it all pretty well and I just feel very fortunate to have won this week.
“I just tried to stick to the same game plan I’ve had all week, it’s not really a good time to change anything on the fourth day, especially if you’ve got yourself into a good position, so I just tried to do the same things today as I had for the previous three days.
“I fortunately got off to a very good start and that definitely helped me just play my own game a little bit more and not worry too much about what anyone else was doing.
“I never felt it was mine until we were on the green on the last hole. You can never take anything for granted in this game until the last putt is made and you know it’s yours.
“It’s been an amazing week and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
France’s Saddier, another nearly man on last year’s Road to Oman, closed his week with a birdie to seal outright second place, one shot ahead of Italian Francesco Laporta and England’s overnight leader Matt Wallace.