MONTE REI, PORTUGAL | The players on the Asian-Pacific team in last week’s Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy at Monte Rei Golf & Country Club came from seven different lands as opposed to the European side’s nine. Yet the language barriers they had to face were much the more extreme.
There was no official interpreter but, whenever they could have done with one, the 18-year-old Seenappa Chikkarangappa from India stepped in. The latter is almost as fluent in English as he is in a couple of Indian languages – and useful enough at Japanese to have been an obvious foursomes partner for Hideki Matsuyama.
It was on the first of the practice days that “Chikka,” as he is called, caught the eye of Scott Morrison, Titleist’s “Next Generation” relations’ manager.
Morrison’s job is to try and identify the champions of the future whilst all the time watching out for those who have something extra to bring to the table. “You’re looking for good ambassadors who have a touch of Rory about them,” he expanded.
Initially, he took note of Chikka’s swing and his ball flight. Then, as he saw a bit more of him, he was impressed by his personal skills and the way he was interacting with players and officials. Morrison was as interested as anyone to learn more about Chikka, about how he is the only member of his team to have had virtually nothing in the way of schooling.
At the age of 10, he was working as a forecaddie at the Eagleton golf club in Bangalore, with his main task one of collecting balls on the driving range. Armed with an old club, he would knock the missiles on to the same patch of turf, the easier to pick them up. Vijay Divecha, the club coach, was spellbound at his easy mastery of the skill and one day called him across to ask if he would like to learn to play the game.
To which Chikka replied in his native tongue, for he did not speak any English at that point, “I am from a very poor home. I come here to earn money, not to play.”
Divecha advised that the club would look after him and, within a couple of years of coach and pupil getting together, Chikka was winning tournaments. He represented India for a first time at 13 and, in each of the last two years, he has captured both the Indian Junior championship and the Indian Amateur.
Chikka picked up his Japanese from the many Japanese members at the Eagleton club, while he learned his English from a young man called Anirban Lahari, the son of an Indian army officer. The latter was taking lessons from Divecha at the same time as he was and the two became firm friends as they practised together. On Chikka’s insistence, the conversation would always be in English.
Whenever Chikka, on his golfing sorties, hears a new word which he does not fully understand, he stores it in his memory and takes it back for Lahari to explain. At the same time, he has started keeping a book on his golfing statistics and thoughts, not just for the sake of his game but by way of improving his writing and his reading.
“It prepares me to send e-mails and everything I will have to do when I turn professional,” he said. That, for the record, will be after he has represented India in this year’s Eisenhower Trophy.
Dilip Thomas, a council member of the Indian Golf Union, is justifiably proud of a system in India in which there is scope for the poorest in the land to make golfing headway.
Though Chikka is sponsored by members of the Eagleton club, the oil companies apparently do as the Irish banks used to do in employing promising young golfers and providing them with a series of inter-company matches. Again, Thomas himself, and others like him, will often help to players starting out on the Indian professional circuit, looking after their travel and accommodation costs.
“The money on offer on the Indian circuit isn’t a lot compared to what they would get on the European or Asian Tours but by Indian standards it is good,” says Thomas. “The players can make a living.”
Al Sher, a caddie at the New Delhi GC, was among the earliest Indian caddies to make a name for himself in a golfing context. In 1991, he was the first home winner of the Indian Open and, after he won the title again in 1993, New Delhi made him a member.
Rashid Kahn and SSP Chowrasia are two more to have come up via the caddie ranks.
To Thomas, nothing stands out more about Chikka than his guts. He cites a final of the All-India Championship in which he was 6 down after 14 holes in the 36-hole final before going on to win at the 34th.
The name Seenappa Chikkarangappa may not exactly roll off Western tongues but “Chikka” is easy. Apart from that, it has the ring of a champion.