From riches to rags

Golf: Young star had the world at his feet but sub­stance abuse saw it all come crash­ing down

CityPress - - Sport - PULE MOKHINE pmokhine@city­press.co.za

From the lush greens of Scot­land, Eng­land and Italy on the Euro­pean Tour to liv­ing as a squat­ter at the Observatory Golf Club in Joburg.

This is the sad story of Eu­gene Maroga, who at one stage was one of the coun­try’s most promis­ing golfers.

Five years ago, Maroga had it all. He en­joyed the fruits of his suc­cess as he toured Europe, play­ing in top tour­na­ments.

The then 25 year old rubbed shoul­ders with some of the world’s best play­ers and his ca­reer was flour­ish­ing.

But then it all came crash­ing down – he landed in jail af­ter what he claims was his in­volve­ment in and ad­dic­tion to drugs.

Maroga, who won nu­mer­ous ti­tles at the height of his golf­ing ca­reer, says he has no one but him­self to blame for his woes.

Now, at 30, he has noth­ing to show for the achieve­ments that made a name for him on the golf course. A squat­ter at the Observatory Golf Club in eastern Joburg, he ekes out a liv­ing by help­ing club mem­bers at the driv­ing range fine­tune their tal­ent for R300 a les­son.

In a frank in­ter­view with City Press, Maroga spoke of how his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer was de­stroyed by life in the fast lane and his re­sul­tant drug and al­co­hol abuse.

“I was at the Jo­han­nes­burg Prison where I spent two years for sell­ing drugs. I was also an ad­dict – I used drugs and was an al­co­holic,” said Maroga.

His high­lights in­cluded play­ing in the SA Open as a pro­fes­sional and in the Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship at The Old Course at St An­drews, Scot­land, as an am­a­teur in 2002.

“I had ev­ery­thing go­ing for me. I aban­doned my ca­reer be­cause I wanted to feed my bad habits. I was put on a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme while I was in prison and re­alised then that I had to do some­thing to kick my habits,” said Maroga.

He unashamedly con­fesses to be­ing a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict but was at pains to ex­plain that when he was re­leased from prison, he re­alised he had noth­ing left – in­clud­ing his dig­nity.

He added that coach­ing golf was the only op­tion he had to keep him­self afloat.

“When I was re­leased, I had no fixed place of abode and was pen­ni­less. I had a choice to go back home to Mpumalanga or bat­tle it out on the Joburg streets with the peo­ple I used and sold drugs with,” he said.

Maroga said he had been squat­ting at the course for four months now.

“Be­fore then, I used to sleep in pub­lic parks and eat out of dust­bins.

“When I came to Observatory, Lebo Ra­mak­gosi – who is head coach at the course – took pity on me. He ad­vised me to help at the driv­ing range.

“To show how tough things were, I was even adopted by a white fam­ily at one stage, but this did not work out,” said Maroga.

He added that he was busy work­ing on a book about his life and per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences.

“The money I earn at the course is lit­tle com­pared with what I used to get when I was on top of my game, but it keeps me go­ing.

“There are also Good Sa­mar­i­tans among the play­ers who come to the range. They pro­vide me with clothes and shoes and I’m grate­ful for that,” he said.

Maroga has not lost hope of get­ting back to the top and re­claim­ing his for­mer glory on the fair­ways.

Theo Manyama, a for­mer Sun­shine Tour tour­na­ment direc­tor, hap­pened to be play­ing at the Observatory course at the time of the in­ter­view. He lamented Maroga’s mis­for­tune.

“At one stage, I re­mem­ber him [Maroga] win­ning tour­na­ment af­ter tour­na­ment in the coun­try. He had ev­ery­thing go­ing for him. I hope he bounces back one day,” said Manyama.

Maroga se­cured his 2009 tour card with a com­fort­able three-stroke vic­tory in the Vusi Ngubeni Devel­op­ment Stroke­play at the Observatory course.

Some of his no­table achieve­ments on the lo­cal cir­cuit in­clude fin­ish­ing tied for fourth at the Zam­bia Open (2006), tied for 11th at the Seek­ers Travel Pro-Am (2006), and tied for 25th at the Vo­da­com Cham­pi­onship (2007).

He last com­peted on the Sun­shine Tour in 2011.

PHOTO: EL­IZ­A­BETH SEJAKE

HARD TIMES Eu­gene Maroga earns a liv­ing by of­fer­ing his skills to as­pir­ing golfers. He be­moans the reck­less life­style that de­stroyed his promis­ing ca­reer

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