The Inspiring Legacy of Lewis Chitengwa - The amateur Zimbabwean Golfer who once defeated Tiger Woods

In a heartwarming tribute to a Zimbabwean golfing legend, the second annual Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Golf Tournament unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia last April as enthusiasts and admirers gathered to honour the life and legacy of Zimbabwe's own Lewis Chitengwa. His remarkable journey from Zimbabwe to breaking golfing barriers and capturing hearts around the world is nothing short of inspirational. 

Chitengwa was a two-time All-American at Virginia (1995, 1996) and earned All-ACC honours in 1995 when he was named the league’s rookie of the year.

The Inspiring Legacy of Lewis Chitengwa - The amateur Zimbabwean Golfer who defeated Tiger Woods

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Chitengwa etched his name in the annals of golfing history when he became the first Black golfer to claim victory at the South African Amateur Championship in 1993. He emerged victorious in a country still gripped by apartheid, where black citizens faced significant discrimination. His triumph was akin to Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier in baseball and Jesse Owens winning gold medals in front of Hitler at the Olympics. Chitengwa's victory resonated deeply in sub-Saharan Africa, making him an instant hero. 

His father, Lewis Muridzo, played professionally in the 1960s and '70s and managed Windgate Park Golf Course in Harare from the mid-'80s where he spent countless hours honing his son’s golf skills. He contributed immensely to former World Number 1 golfer Nick Price’s game and also helped another major champion from Fiji, Vijay Singh. Zimbabwean player Brendon de Jonge is also his former student.

“I taught Nick Price when I was still a caddy. I got the experience from caddying and would help a lot of golfers on tour when I became a professional,” says Lewis Muridzo in a 2017 interview with Tee Time Magazine. 

Nick Price, a Zimbabwean retired professional golfer who won the PGA Championship twice and The Open Championship in 1994, corroborated this in a eulogy he wrote for Lewis Chitengwa for Sports Illustrated in July 2001. "I'd known Lewie since he was 17 and helped sponsor his career. His father, Lewis Muridzo, played professionally in the 1960s and '70s, and since the mid-'80s has managed Windgate Park Golf Course in Harare, where I played as a boy. In 1988 Muridzo told me, "Watch out, Lewie's coming after you."" 

The Inspiring Legacy of Lewis Chitengwa - The amateur Zimbabwean Golfer who defeated Tiger Woods

While many might not be familiar with his name on a global scale, within the golfing community, Lewis Chitengwa's star shone brightly. He was a force to be reckoned with during his college years at the University of Virginia, where he earned the prestigious title of a two-time All-American. His passion for the game was infectious, and his dedication to excellence was evident in every swing of his club.

Lewis Chitengwa first gained recognition in 1992 when he achieved a remarkable feat – defeating the young Tiger Woods by three shots in the Orange Bowl Junior tournament. This victory immediately placed him on the radar of college coaches across America. "I first heard of him in 1992 when he won the Orange Bowl Junior," says Mike Moraghan, Lewis Chitengwe's University of Virginia coach in an interview with PGA Tour. "Tiger had won everything. Typically he was winning junior tournaments by huge margins so for Lewis to come over and beat Tiger by three shots in a 72-hole tournament was significant and that got him on everybody's radar who was a college coach in America. I had learnt other information that he had already won the Zimbabwe men's amateur so I knew this guy was for real and I was like I got to get hold of this guy." He continues.

It was through a family friend, a government official from Zimbabwe, that the University of Virginia's golf coach, Mike Moraghan, managed to make contact with the young prodigy. "The Chitengwe family in 1992-93 didn't have a phone in their home and it was eventually an official from the Zimbabwe government who was a family friend of the Chitengwes who called me and asked 'I understand you're the coach from Virginia who want to speak with Louis Chitengwe?' and I said yeah, do you know him? and, he says,  'he is sitting here in my office.' It was a year and a half process before Lewis arrived at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1994." he says.

The Inspiring Legacy of Lewis Chitengwa - The amateur Zimbabwean Golfer who defeated Tiger Woods

His journey to the University of Virginia was not without its challenges. A year and a half of determination and persistence finally paid off when he arrived in Charlottesville. His South African Amateur Championship win in 1993 was a watershed moment. In a nation still grappling with the dark spectre of apartheid, Chitengwa's victory was akin to Jackie Robinson's integration of baseball or Jesse Owens's triumph over Hitler.

Chitengwa's collegiate career was marked by excellence. He was named ACC Freshman of the Year and consistently contended for titles, always striving to be the best Zimbabwean golfer the world had ever seen. In 1998, he graduated from the University of Virginia, embarking on a professional journey that promised to leave an indelible mark on the PGA Tour.

The world was poised to witness the greatness of Lewis Chitengwa on the PGA Tour. He showed immense promise on the tour and the Canadian tour, consistently performing at the highest level. But fate had other plans. During a tournament in Edmonton, Chitengwa fell ill and had to withdraw from the competition. Tragically, he had contracted meningitis, and the world lost a golfing prodigy.

The news of Chitengwa's untimely passing sent shockwaves through the golfing community. The outpouring of grief and admiration from around the globe was a testament to the impact he had on people's lives. His incredible golfing talent was matched only by his ability to connect with people on a deeply personal level.

Chitengwa's legacy extends far beyond his golfing prowess. He was renowned for his ability to connect with people on a personal level. He maintained lasting friendships around the world, writing postcards and letters to individuals he had met during his travels, including those who served him lunch during tournaments. The outpouring of grief and remembrance from the global golfing community upon his passing was immense.

Lewis Chitengwa

In 2015, Lewis Chitengwa was posthumously inducted into the Southern Africa Golf Hall of Fame, alongside legends like Ernie Els, Gary Player, and Nick Price. His legacy lives on through the Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Golf Tournament, an annual event at the University of Virginia that commemorates his achievements and the lasting impression he left on the world.

Chitengwa's life is a reminder that life is short, and opportunities must be seized. His legacy includes not only his golfing achievements but also the opportunities he created for others. He serves as an inspiration for the efforts to provide golfing opportunities to those who may not otherwise have access, a testament to the positive impact of the sport on character development and life skills.

The Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Golf Tournament stands as a tribute to a golfing hero whose memory continues to inspire generations of golfers and enthusiasts worldwide.

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Mungwadzi Godwin

twitterinstagramI like sharing positive stories about Zimbabweans at home and abroad. I also write articles on Personal Finance, Fashion, Music, and Tech. Let's connect!

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