The flight is exciting. Playing in the 18th Nedbank SA Disabled Golf Open is a massive deal, but the prospect of lining up alongside the legendary Manuel de los Santos from the Dominican Republic at Zwartkop Country Club from 2-4 May has the 18-year-old leg amputee from the Western Cape bouncing in anticipation.
“I can’t wait to meet Manuel because he changed my life,” Mdudu said. “I’ve watched hundreds of video clips of Manuel on the internet. It has been my biggest dream to see him play in real life ever since I saw his swing the first time. I still can’t believe it’s actually going to happen. I’m counting the days, but I am scared that I’m going to wake up and realise it was a dream.”
His first flight. His first time playing the SA Open. His first time meeting his idol.
That’s a lot of firsts for the teenager from Browns Farm in Philippi, but Mdudu has shown over the last two years that he has the courage to face any challenge head on.
“We were introduced to Simu by our domestic worker Florence,” explained Lily Reich from the South African Disabled Golf Association (SADGA).
“Florence has been with us for 20 years and knows the work we do at SADGA. She came to me at the end of 2013 and told me about a remarkable young boy that needed our help. Simu attended the Ned Doman School in Athlone and fell off the train one morning on his way to school.
“His leg had to be amputated and it was a huge cross to bear for this active youngster. Florence believed SAGDA could give him the help he needed to cope with his disability. I asked Florence to send Simu and his mom to King David Golf Club so we could meet him and within a few minutes of us meeting Simu, we enrolled him in the First Swing Programme.
“We showed him video clips of Manuel to encourage him, and he took to golf like a duck to water. He became a member of King David (now King David Mowbray Golf Club) in 2015 and was handicapped with the South African Golf Association.”
When Reich introduced Mdudu to De los Santos via the internet, she could not imagine what a profound effect the world famous leg-amputee would have on the youngster.
“There were some clips on YouTube of Manuel when he played in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour,” Reich explained. “Simu watched them over and over and tried to emulate Manuel’s swing. Like Manuel, he doesn’t have a prosthetic and stands on one leg when he plays golf. Having this person in his life to look up to, really fired up his love for the game.”
For the last two years, De los Santos has inspired every tee shot, every chip and every putt that Mdudu practiced and played.
“Manuel’s achievements are legendary,” Simu gushed. “He has won a bunch of disabled titles, but he also competes on Tours all over Europe against normal golfers. His swing is as good as the top pros.”
Mdudu said golf was a lifeline he never expected.
“When I joined the First Swing Programme at SADGA my life changed,” he said. “I learned to think positively about myself and my life. My family love the fact that I am doing something with my life. I love it, because I get to travel to places I’ve never been and I meet new people all the time.
“I’m excited to see how far I can take it. There are still things I really struggle with, like putting, but I know I will improve if I keep on practicing.
“The biggest thing that SADGA has given me, is new meaning to my life. It’s so easy to give up and to feel sorry for yourself. It’s too easy to ask why me. Manuel didn’t do that; he practiced and hit 1,000 golf balls a day.
“He plays and fights for his dream to play pro golf and he is a great inspiration for all of us. To have someone like him to look up to is amazing and hopefully I can become that someone for other kids who lose an arm or a leg. Manuel is seriously inspirational and in two weeks I can say I met him and I played my first SA Open with him. That’s huge, just huge.”