Hamlet boy egged on by golf

Chikkarangappa... the stuff of dreams.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Chikkarangappa will turn 18 only in September this year, but he has already decided he has played his last junior golf tournament. “My aim,” he declares, “is to be the number one amateur player in the country.” Immediately on the horizon will be the 2011 All India Amateur, next month, when he will seek to repeat last year's victory. Over to Shreedutta Chidananda.

The National Rural Water Supply Programme's Yearly Status Report for 2010 contains, as part of its district-wise data, a page on Ramanagara, situated just outside Bangalore. Buried at No. 1770 therein is Rangegowdana Doddi, a ‘habitation' comprising 63 households, we are told, with a total population of 250 persons that consume 55 litres of water per capita per day (LPCD). What the report does not mention, however, is that the village is home to one of the country's best-ever junior golfers, the only one to hold the National Junior and Amateur titles at the same time.

It was his win at the all-India Junior golf tour final recently, at Eagleton Golf Resort, located hardly two kilometres away from that village, that fetched S. Chikkarangappa the aforementioned distinction. The all-India Amateur victory had arrived in February last year at the Oxford Golf & Country Club in Pune, making ‘Chikka', then aged 16, the youngest ever to win the competition, in its 109-year history.

Six years ago, though, any suggestions of a career in golf would have elicited considerable ridicule, and later perhaps a wry smile of resignation, from Chikka. “I used to stand there and watch while they played,” he recollects. Working as a forecaddie at Eagleton to supplement the family income, the kid gathered balls on the course, deeply intrigued by a game that he was only aware “looked like hockey”. Fashioning his first club out of a lump of wood, Chikka practised driving after school (“a wooden wood,” he laughs). “I then dug myself a ‘cup' in the ground, using a steel rod to putt.”

It was his encounter with coach Vijay Divecha one such weekend in February 2004, though, that immutably altered the course of his life. “He looked on with great interest all the time, so I asked him to give it a try,” says Divecha. First, though, an interpreter had to be found: Divecha spoke no Kannada and the kid nothing but it. “I told him I had no money,” Chikka recalls, “but he said he would work something out if I was interested in playing.” Divecha obtained permission from Eagleton for him to use the course, teaching him when he found the time.

“I was really scared about my not knowing English,” he reveals, now with impeccable command over the language. “Things were quite difficult those days. ‘Your shoulders are shut,' Mr. Divecha would say, or ‘open your stance'. What could I understand? For a while, we only communicated through sign language.”

Encouraged to participate, Chikka went to Ooty for his first junior tournament, in April that year, and finished second. His second competition came later the same year, at Eagleton, when the then 11-year-old won his first trophy. “I cried a lot after Ooty. I felt I had failed by coming second. But that win changed everything.” Feeling he needed to devote more time to golf, Chikka dropped out of school soon after. “I didn't have time to focus on both,” he states pithily. If Eagleton was convinced, Chikka's parents — Seenappa and Revamma — weren't. “They were apprehensive. Relatives came over; ‘all this is not for us,' they said. But I asked my mother for a year's time; I asked her to trust me.”

The subsequent season, Chikkarangappa finished number one in the ‘C' category (11-13 years). “I had to; I just had one year. My mother was so happy to see my picture in the newspaper. She realised that people actually recognised me.” With support from Eagleton and The Foundation, the years that followed were no less remarkable — a glut of trophies, and top rank in every age group. “Relatives who said ‘don't let him go',” Chikka continues, “came home and called me a great guy.” “It wasn't that I saw something in him immediately,” Divecha says of his pupil. “You don't. But over a period of time it became apparent that he was going to become a very good golfer.”

The proximity of his home to Eagleton has meant that Chikka has spent as much time in one place as the other. “They've treated me very well here,” he muses. “Besides, it's just home and golf here. There are no distractions. There are a lot of examples right in front of me — of people who are much more talented, but are nowhere today.”

Chikkarangappa will turn 18 only in September this year, but he has already decided he has played his last junior tournament. “My aim,” he declares, “is to be the number one amateur player in the country.” Immediately on the horizon will be the 2011 All India Amateur, next month, when he will seek to repeat last year's victory.

Rangegowdana Doddi though, it seems, will continue to be home to its most famous son for the foreseeable future. “Whatever happens, I'm not moving out of the village,” Chikka avers. “My parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents have all lived here. This is my place.”