Steely resolve

Published : Oct 31, 2009 00:00 IST



Caddies turning golfers is nothing new. But not many of them continue with the same intensity. “They give up after a few failures. That mindset has to change,” says Chinnaswamy Muniyappa, the Indian Open champion, in a chat with Avinash Nair.

Chinnaswamy Muniyappa is a humble and down-to-earth person. He believes in watching golf and improving his game. He has spent nights waking up at odd hours to watch his idol Tiger Woods play. Though many golfers believe that practice enables one to perfect his skills, the Hero Honda Indian Open champion begs to differ. “Even after hours of practice, it’s what you do on the field on the match day that matters. All your practice could turn to zero,” says th e 32-year-old golfer from Bangalore.

Muniyappa literally grew up on the greens of the Karnataka Golf Association (KGA) where his parents, Chinnaswamy and Chinnamma, worked. To supplement his family’s income, Muniyappa, as a seven-year-old, became a caddie. It was then that he learned the nuances of the game by observing the senior players in action.

As a caddie, Muniyappa couldn’t earn much, so he joined his parents in maintaining the golf course at the KGA. However, the urge to play golf lured him back to being a caddie again.

After nearly 12 years in the business, the ‘young lad’ expressed his intention of playing, and the then course-in-charge of the KGA, Kilpady, spoke to the people who mattered in the association to get Muniyappa one of the four berths that are randomly allotted to the caddies. Thus began Muniyappa’s journey as a golfer.

Muniyappa spoke to Sportstar on his return from Gurgaon where he won his first major title, the Hero Honda Indian Open, recently.

Excerpts:Question: How was your growing-up years?

Answer: My growing-up years was one of travails and teething problems. As a young boy I wandered on the greens of the KGA where my parents worked. It was but natural that the game fascinated me and I soon became a caddie. We, the caddies, used to dig a hole and use branches, carved as a club, to play after our day’s work, mostly in the evenings. But then we graduated and each of us managed to have a single club to experiment with.

What kept you interested in the game?

The course in-charge at the KGA, Mr. Kilpady, was very supportive when I expressed my interest to play golf. At 20 I had not played the game at the junior or amateur level and even though I had a bad start to a tournament, Mr. Kilpady encouraged me to continue. I ventured into the pro-circuit in 1997, and though I won my first title only in 2008, I was relatively happy with my progress in the interim years.

KGA helped me financially to go on tours as it was a big burden on my family. My parents even took loans to ensure that I kept playing tournaments at other venues. And I am proud to say that I seldom missed the ‘cut’ which kept me interested in the game.

Which was your first title?

The Toyota Altis Open at the Eagleton Course in November 2008, after nearly 11 years on the circuit. But then I knew that I could play with the best and even win. The victory motivated me to play the Asian Tour qualifier in Thailand where I finished in the top 30 (only 40 of the 250 plus golfers qualified). Then there was the event in Phuket, the SAIL Open and then the Black Mountain (Thailand) where I made the cut but finished in the middle rungs. Then at the Indonesian Open, I did not even make the cut. But then came the turning point of my golfing career — I created the course record of nine under 63 in Brunei. The KGA took notice of the achievement and when I requested them for some financial help the committee met and sanctioned Rs. 6 lakh. That changed my life.

How are you as a player? Did you not feel the need for a coach?

I was always confident, but titles eluded me and I had to be content with fifth- or sixth-place finishes most often. I was able to save my card and play more tournaments but victories never came my way. Though I never had a coach — could not afford one and I believe one needs a coach’s inputs as a beginner — I approached senior pros to talk about my game. Invariably all of them, including Digvijay Singh and Jeev Milkha Singh, pointed out that despite having great skills I needed to turn more to the left while driving. I thought if all were pointing to that one flaw in my technique I need to change. I made the correction at the DLF Course in Gurgaon and won the Indian Open title.

Could you elaborate on the play-off for the title and what was going on in your mind during the one-hole play-off with Lee Sung of Korea for the Indian Open title?

I was happy that I was among the leaders from Day Two. And in the back nine in the final round, I was 12 under and content to be in the lead when I noticed that Lee Sung had tied the scores in the 18th. I played a par hole to ensure that I didn’t miss out this time. And in the play-off, after a good second shot, I was pumped up and as he missed a 15-footer I calmly putted an eight-foot birdie to win the title.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My greatest strength, if I may say so, is my ability to read the greens besides my putting. Probably working on the course and living on the greens have helped me greatly. And weaknesses… well, there could be many.

The prize money of $198,000 for winning the Indian Open is huge. What are you planning to do with the money?

Buy myself a nice home. My parents struggled in helping me fulfil my dream of becoming a professional golfer. I want to provide them with a nice place to live in, but that’s after I get my money after all the tax deductions.

Which is your favourite course?

The KGA as a home course ranks amongst the top though it’s a tough one. The course in Jammu, DGC, GP Greens (Noida), DLF and ITC Classic are all good destinations for me within the country, while the one in Macau and the Blue Mountain (Thailand) are my best in Asia.

What next?

I am heading for Malaysia and then to Singapore during the next two weeks. The Indian Open title has opened the doors to many more events for me. I should be planning to fill in more tournament plays.

Your best mate on the tour?

Well, it has to be Anirbhan Lahiri. He has been a constant source of encouragement and has stood by me even during my tough days.

Will your success spur caddies to turn professionals?

Well, it’s all in the mind. The caddies are all good, and many came to the limelight before me. Due to various reasons they don’t pursue the game with the same intensity and give up after a few failures. That mindset needs to change.

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