Coveted 2008 cards ... the Cobra strikes

Page through the European Tour media guides for the past 30 years or so and you won't find evidence of a single card-holding black African with playing privileges for that tour.

Yes, in spite of incredible odds because of their skin colour, Papwa Sewgolum did manage to win the Dutch Open three times (1959, 1960 and 1964) while fellow South African Vincent Tshabalala captured the 1976 French Open.

But for the best part of three decades there has been no black South African who has enjoyed fully exempt playing privileges for the European Tour where only the best can compete.

All that changed on Tuesday of this week when James Kamte was among four South Africans to earn coveted 2008 cards at the tour's final qualifying school in San Roque, Spain.

In the 108-hole marathon with 156 players (who in many instances had already come through first and second stage qualifying) battling it out for 30 spots, Kamte ended up sharing 22nd place on three-under-par 429 with compatriots Thomas Aiken and Ulrich van den Berg. That means the three of them, along with Alan McLean who tied for sixth on 425, have for the first time in their careers their playing privileges for the lucrative 2008 tour.

Kamte, who grew up in an Eastern Cape township and had aspirations of being a soccer star before turning to golf when a benefactor introduced him to the game, is only 25-years-old.

And he is blessed not only with talent and an ability to hit mighty drives up the fairway, but he works incredibly hard at his trade too so the dedication is there.

Kamte, nicknamed "Cobra" because he posed such a danger in front of goal on the soccer field, turned professional in 2003.

And after a bunch of near-misses, he scored his first win in the paid ranks this September in the Sunshine Tour's Seekers Travel Pro-Am at Dainfern when he shot a pair of 68s and a 67 for a 203 total to pick up first-place money of R63400.

Now he will be playing for much bigger rewards on the European Tour, starting with the three co-sanctioned events to be held in South Africa this summer, the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek from December 6-9, the SA Airways Open at Pearl Valley the following week, and the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington from January 10-13.

First things first, though, and Kamte is getting married on Saturday to longtime sweetheart Nicky at the club he plays out of, St Francis Links. "It'll be a short honeymoon, though, because I have to prepare for the tournaments," he smiled.

A committed Christian, Kamte says his faith has helped him in his golf: "I have kept my trust in God and I allow him to guide this journey. I have always maintained that, as long as you put in the hard work, He will do the rest."

Kamte felt out of his depth on first turning professional, but hard work and advice from people like Tshabalala, swing coach Gavan Levenson and Gary Player has made a huge difference: "Gavan guided me along and the guys on the Sunshine Tour took me in and supported me. I got to 32nd on the money list in 2004 and that was when I really knew I could go all the way. Mr Player told me last year that all I lacked was the belief that I could win."

On hearing Kamte's news on Wednesday, Player, winner of nine Majors, was elated: "When I met James, I told him he had the ability to go all the way," said Player from Arabella, where he is hosting the Coca-Cola Charity Championship. "He has the temperament, the personality and determination of a champion. He will be a wonderful ambassador for South Africa."

Tshabalala agreed, adding that Kamte has the game, the talent and the ability to listen and learn to make him one of the world's best golfers.

"James came to me a couple of years ago looking for advice. I told him that a champion must be able to use all 14 clubs in the bag. In those days he was hammering his driver around every course. Now we see him using a 3-wood, 1- and 2-irons, chipping well and giving himself chances when the putter runs cold. Those are the signs of a champion in the making."




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