The Book

An excerpt from ‘Bless•ed One’

No one seemed to realize that history was being made right before their eyes when Madalitso Muthiya, a wiry, unassuming twenty-three-year-old from Kitwe, Zambia, strode to the first tee at the legendary Winged Foot Country Club just outside New York City in June of 2006. There were no photographers, video cameras or adoring fans. He was not the most accomplished golfer, nor the most watched. But his journey here was the most improbable. And revolutionary.

As he waited to tee off, Madalitso’s breath was not bated. No butterflies fluttered in his stomach. His heart was not in his mouth. It beat slow and steady. He looked relaxed and ready, like a battle-tested veteran instead of a young golfer 7,000 miles from home, from a continent whose indigenous people were never before represented in one of the world’s most famous sporting events.

His face showed the same cool, calm, collected confidence that I saw eight years earlier in a hotel lobby halfway around the world where I first came face-to-face with the soft-spoken, stone-faced teenage golf prodigy and his astute-looking father, Peter.


“Born in one of the poorest countries on the planet, his story transcends the constrictions of race, economics and a troubled continent.”


Peter Muthiya grew up in a mud hut, a Black child of colonial Africa in the 1950s who fell madly in love with a game invented by some of the whitest men on earth: the Scottish. And they brought to Africa by British colonialists as a White man’s game, where Peter and his kind were not welcome. But Peter wouldn’t let that get in the way of his love. He foraged for balls in the deadly, snake-infested brush edging the unlikely golf course near his home in Zambia. He was desperate to learn how to drive and putt, but the equipment was ridiculously expensive, available to only the well-heeled ruling class. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, spending as much money on a set of Titleists as your family made in a year is unthinkable, no matter how deep your love for the game.

So Peter whittled homemade golf clubs from carefully curated sticks and played with his scavenged balls. He loved to play golf. Smacking the ball, watching it fly, and trying to figure out how to construct a swing that would make the ball go exactly where he wanted. He was consumed by proper club grip and body stance, correct form and strategy. He relished the history of golf and its great champions, time-honored etiquette, sportsmanship and traditions.

As Peter grew, his love affair with golf ripened and deepened, becoming more than a passionate pastime. It offered escape from a life of extreme poverty, where people survived on less than a dollar a day, the average life expectancy was thirty-seven and contracting AIDS or malaria was more likely than going to college. A few hours with his lovingly carved clubs was a calming balm that let him forget the crippled economy, the often insane, inhumane government policies and the systemic corruption that kept him and millions of his people in a perpetual struggle. He could also ignore the occasional pang of regret for the choice he made—one he wanted his son to avoid. He vowed that his son would have it better than he did, so hitting golf balls became his refuge, his sanctuary, his asylum.

But if you watched Madalitso approach his tee shot with his big, shiny Cleveland driver on that June day, you’d never have guessed that his father learned to play with whittled branches and scraps of wood. Or that he’d spent most of his life surrounded by disease, poverty and the looming legacy of oppression. While his father had passed on his encyclopedic knowledge of golf’s history—the good, the bad and the ugly—he knew he was doing something no man had ever done. But he did not buckle with the weight of his people, his country and his father on his back. He never believed the widely accepted notion that a Black African golfer, without the benefit of coaching, access to world-class courses or proper equipment, could not compete on the grandest stage of world golf. His father wouldn’t let him.

Standing there in the tee box of this famous, stately bastion of championship golf, he heard his father’s voice in his head. His whole life, Peter Muthiya had told him that he was as good as anyone else and to measure himself not by what narrow minds thought or said about him, but by his faith, hard work, and determination. Those were things he had in abundance. He remembered his grandmother’s words of wisdom: Don’t worry about the people around you. Just focus on what you need to do.

Thus fortified, he planted his tee into the hallowed ground and nonchalantly yet meticulously placed his golf ball (brand-new and not scavenged from under a cobra!) on it.

photo by tyrone winfield @tyrone_winfield_photography

Compared to staring down death, disease and a world where the deck was stacked against him, it didn’t even seem like there was a deck—hitting a golf ball down the immaculate green fairway seemed like a walk in the park. It didn’t matter whether he dribbled the ball off the tee box or belted it 300 yards dead center. Just by hitting his tee shot, Madalitso Muthiya would become a historical figure, a living, breathing embodiment of breaking the yoke of racism and subjugation—of changing the world. With a driver, a nine-iron and a putter.

With a placid expression and easy grace, Madalitso prepared to tee off.

The 400 yards of pristine green grass stretching in front of him was like an invitation. But I saw only the brown, patchy, unkempt course in a town that has since been erased from the map: Broken Hill. This is where his dad turned a childhood crush into a lifelong love affair that birthed “Mad,” an award-winning golfer.

This is the story of how Madalitso Muthiya rewrote history. It all began in a rich, bountiful, beautiful country hardened and corrupted over centuries by the slave trade, apartheid and foreign oppression where men, women and children and homes, land and culture were destroyed. In the heart of colonial Africa.