Sentosa:: Growing up some 1,500 kilometers apart, the golf careers of India’s SSP Chawrasia and Chikkarangappa S. could not have taken a more identical pathway that they are now on same track to challenge the world in Melbourne later this month.
Both Asian Tour players will make their debuts at the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath Golf Club from November 24 to 27, forming one of seven two-man Asian teams hoping to hoist the famous trophy won previously by many legends of the games.
Chawrasia, 38, is the older and more established of the two, thanks largely to three victories in co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour tournaments while Chikka, as he is better known, is 12 years younger and regarded as one of the nation’s exciting and new prospects.
Their rise against the odds is inspirational, with Chawrasia growing up as the son of a greenskeeper in Kolkata and Chikka working as a ball boy in Bengaluru where he’d earned US$1 day.
As a youngster, Chawrasia’s intrigue with golf saw him climb over walls to sneak in a few holes before being chased away by club members while Chikka spent hours mimicking golf swings. Ironically, the former now owns a nice home near the club and the latter is touted to own a golf swing that can land him Asian Tour victories and beyond.
“From our village, we could see the Eagleton golf course and I was curious about the golf buggies moving around. One day, I tried walking in to see what it was about. I was young and small, and they didn’t allow me in but I walked in anyway,” said Chikka with a grin.
“I became a ball boy at the range when I was about eight. I just fell in love with the game. I wanted to get more involved and I worked there so I could play a bit and earn some money by collecting balls from 7am to 7pm during weekends. That would keep mum happy too.”
Chikka’s first clubs were a used half-set given by a Japanese expatriate. Although it was a women’s set, he recalled sleeping that night with the bag next him. His raw talents inevitably saw become a top Indian amateur that he was also selected to play in the 2012 Bonnalack Trophy and partnered a Japanese youngster by the name of Hideki Matsuyama.
“My parents … we did agriculture to take care of the house. My dad also worked in the villages building houses. It was difficult for us. The dream and ambition was for me to become a graduate and start earning money. But I chose golf when I was 11,” said Chikka.
He is indebted to Chawrasia for picking him as his partner for the World Cup of Golf. “It was a shock. Out of so many guys, for S.S.P. to choose me, I was really happy. I’ve been looking for opportunities and he’s given me the chance and we’ll see what we can do in Melbourne.
“We always play for ourselves as professionals and we hardly play for our countries unlike our amateur days. It’s a proud honour to represent India in the World Cup. It’s the best feeling ever,” said Chikka, who is currently ranked 30th on the Asian Tour thanks to four top-10s this season.
While reigning Asian Tour number one Anirban Lahiri is like a brother to him and they share the same swing coach in Vijay Divecha, Chikka said Chawrasia’s well-scripted rise in the game from an under-privilege upbringing provided him with his early inspiration.
“He’s the most genuine and down to earth person,” said Chikka. “Compared to where he came from, we both belong in the same place in regards to where we started our careers. I’ve always looked up to him … from being nothing, he’s grown, becoming a winner in Asia and Europe. He has kept his dream alive. S.S.P. always had the hunger to be the best that he can be, which is what I want to do as well.”
The self-taught Chawrasia, who won the Hero Indian Open earlier this season, is looking forward to representing his nation for the first time in the World Cup of Golf alongside Chikka. They have already discussed colour coordinated outfits as well to ensure they look the part as a united team.
“I chose Chikka as he’s been playing really good. I’m a short hitter and I wanted to pick a long hitter to give ourselves a chance to compete. We couldn’t have two short hitters. Chikka hits it long and he’s also on form,” said Chawrasia, currently ranked ninth on the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
“It’ll be a fun event. We’ll make sure we enjoy it. I’m very comfortable with him. He’s normally not funny but when I say something, he normally gets very funny. I don’t know why.”
Growing up, Chawrasia did not know about the World Cup of Golf. It was only after India had enjoyed its best finish with a ninth place outing via Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa in the 2005 edition that he began to take notice.
“I knew Jyoti and Arjun had played well. I said I would like to go too one day. I thought my time would come and finally, here I am going to Australia soon,” said Chawrasia, who is nicknamed “Chip-putt-sia” for his short game prowess. It has also been documented that he would practice his chipping in the dark with torchlights and candles around the greenside providing some semblance of light during his formative golf years.
While Australia, England, United States and Japan will start as favourites at Kingston Heath, Chawrasia isn’t too concerned. “We won’t focus on the other teams. We’ll go out there to enjoy ourselves. We’ll have a clear mind, play our own games and if we play well, we can beat the other teams. I don’t think I’ll be telling Chikka what to do as he’s a rising star,” said Chawrasia.