From riches to rags
Golf: Young star had the world at his feet but substance abuse saw it all come crashing down
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.
HARD TIMES Eugene Maroga earns a living by offering his skills to aspiring golfers. He bemoans the reckless lifestyle that destroyed his promising career