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Handicaps No Bar

Handicaps No Bar

Author: Jaideep Mazumdar on Ganesh Prasad Chowrasia
Publication: Outlook
Date: February 25, 2008
URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20080225&fname=Golf+%28F%29&sid=1

Introduction: A mali's son, SSP Chowrasia is India's latest golfing sensation

With a family of eight to look after, Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) greens-keeper Ganesh Prasad Chowrasia could scarcely afford the chicken or mutton dishes his youngest son was so fond of. Often, disappointed with a vegetarian meal, the diminutive, soft-spoken kid would stomp off from his dad's cramped, two-roomed quarters off RCGC's ninth green to pursue his only passion: golf. Ganesh would scold his son for struggling with golf clubs-he was barely a foot taller than a club at the time-instead of maths, but no reproof was strong enough to tear him away from his putting.

But all that's history and the kid, now nearly 30, can indulge in all the culinary delights that money can buy, and much, much more. Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia just won the $2.5-million Emaar MGF Indian Masters, a European Tour event.

That's Rs 1.6 crore, the highest prize money won by an Indian at home.

'Nepali', as Shiv is affectionately called by his parents and siblings (a name brought on by the pronounced Mongoloid features he had when young), has always been entranced by the game. "I used to watch members (of the RCGC) play golf, and was attracted to the game ever since I can remember. A golfer looks so smart and elegant," Shiv Shankar Prasad (or SSP, as he prefers to be called nowadays) told Outlook. His father, however, knew only too well it was a sport for the well-heeled and would often try to steer Nepali back to his studies. "But he would not be deterred," recalls eldest brother Vijay Prasad, who tends the RCGC lawns.

Wearing a frayed, hand-me-down shirt and trousers, SSP could be seen chipping and putting away around the ninth hole. "He was so passionate about golf that he would occasionally, on nights, putt by candlelight," recalls Vijay, also a professional golfer (he finished third in the 1995 Wills Open) before he took up his dad's post after the latter's retirement.

With four sons, three daughters, a wife and a steady stream of relatives from Gauzpur, his native village in UP's Ghazipur district, to feed, Ganesh Prasad could barely make ends meet on his meagre salary of a few hundred rupees. "It wasn't that we had to go without meals, but money was tight. As kids we mostly ate saag, vegetables and rotis-non-veg food wasn't even a once-a-month indulgence," says Vijay. "We would get new clothes only once a year. There was just one cot in the house and we children slept on the floor. Our parents used to worry about our future, especially over getting our sisters married off," adds Vijay. He eventually gave up studies to become a caddie and supplement his dad's income. Younger brothers Om Prakash and Sri Govind-who now take turns caddying for SSP-followed suit. The extra income of the three brothers did help ease the family's monetary situation, but even the sum total of the paltry salaries wasn't enough to make life comfortable. Ganesh Prasad had thus, understandably, set his heart on making his youngest son an "officer" in the government, to lift the family out of poverty.

SSP, however, had found his metier. "While holding a club as a kid, I knew that one day I'd be better than anyone playing on these greens then. I knew I'd show everyone that I was the best. My talent is God-gifted," he told Outlook. "As a kid, I used to trail barefoot behind golfers, watching their moves and envying them," he adds. Close friend Dilip Biswas, an RCGC caddie who often stays with SSP at his nearby Bikramgarh flat (SSP purchased the 600-odd square feet apartment seven years ago), told Outlook that to practise on the greens, SSP had "become an expert at evading RCGC course superintendent Arthur Pereira." Pereira and some others "would shoo off the children of the staff from the greens."

SSP's perseverance paid off and when he was 14, his dad allowed him to drop out of Class viii at the nearby Tollygunge Hindi High School to pursue golf full-time.

That was in 1992. Within a year, his golfing abilities caught the attention of club regulars and other caddies. "My brother started caddying for the then RCGC captain Madan Singh, who recognised his talent and gave him all encouragement," says Vijay. Neil Shaw, a club member whom SSP now calls 'Babla uncle', gifted him his first set of clubs. Jaydeep Chitlangia, another member who had early faith in his abilities, financed the young golfer for many years. On February 10, Chitlangia was at the Delhi Golf Club to witness his protege's victory. "What makes his victory much more joyous is that SSP is a down-to-earth, humble and ever-smiling person; a gem of a man," Chitlangia told Outlook.

SSP turned pro in 1997 and posted his first success in 1999 when he tied at second place in the Indian Open. Since 1998, he has already won over Rs 1 crore in various tournaments and titles, but remains a simple person with no airs. One who hasn't forgotten his roots, as is evident from the way he chats, jokes and fools around with his old buddies-the caddies at the RCGC. He now sports designer labels and drives a spanking new black Maruti Swift, but spends his happiest hours with his brothers, their wives and their nine children at Vijay's three-room quarter near the 11th hole.

How will he spend the prize money? SSP has decided to set up a fund to help talented RCGC caddies become pros with a portion of his prize money. He'll have to keep quite a large sum aside for his European Tour (that'll cost him half a million dollars at least). "I'd like to help out my dad and my brothers. I'll also have to save some of it." And he's never forgotten his parents worrying themselves sick over his sisters' marriages. Two of them are now married, but the youngest, Rita, will get married at Gauzpur in June. And this, he promises, will be a wedding Gauzpur will never forget.


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