The general perception about golf in the country is that it’s a sport meant only for the affluent. It is indeed true to a large extent because a majority of the golfers hail from rich backgrounds whose parents are members of clubs. Kids of defence personnel also have the luxury of playing the game and some end up pursuing it as a career. With barely any public courses and just a handful of driving ranges, the game is very much out of bounds for the middle class. However, the Gentleman’s Game in the country has often thrown up champions from extremely modest backgrounds, all of whom have defied multiple odds and social stigma to climb the mountain of success. One such story is that of S Chikkarangappa, among a clutch of talented and successful young golfers in the country.
Born to Seenappa, a mason from Rangegowdanadoddi village who worked in the nearby Eagleton Golf Resort, Chikkarangappa started working at a tender age of nine because of extreme financial difficulties in the family. Post school in the evenings he would work as a ball boy at Eagleton, earning as little as Rs 40 that would help him get his own meal for the day. As he watched the privileged kids smack the balls in the driving range, he harboured hopes of one day hitting just a single ball. He just wanted to get a feel of what it would be to just swing the club. One fine day, after noticing nobody was around at the driving range, he picked up a club and swung. The contact on the ball was brilliant, sound perfect and direction dead straight. Chikkarangappa immediately broke into elation but to his dismay then resident coach Vijay Divecha had spotted him and called him out. Chikkarangappa thought he would be fired on the spot but was surprised when Divecha appreciated his shot and asked him if he was interested in playing the game.
Chikkarangappa was taken aback by the offer and wanted to immediately say ‘yes’. But the financial constraints were huge. He didn’t have a golfing set nor the right clothes to play with and, more importantly, didn’t have the money to afford such an expensive sport. Divecha, one of the most revered coaches in the country who has also shaped the career of current PGA Tour player Anirban Lahiri, asked him not to worry about economics and just focus on learning the game. Eagleton founder Meda Ashok Kumar too showed a kind heart and allowed Chikkarangappa to use the facilities free of cost.
Chikkarangappa, roughly 11 then, took to the sport with full enthusiasm. With little knowledge of English, Chikkarangappa banked on sign language to learn the basics and very soon started to make an impression in junior tournaments. Knowing golf was his future and destiny, Chikkarangappa even quit school to devote his complete time for the game. That decision sparked a furore at home. His parents, knowing they can’t afford his son’s dreams, wanted him to quit the game and go back to school and work part-time in the club again. But Chikkarangappa was adamant about continuing with golf and eventually convinced his parents in giving flight to his dreams.
“It was tough at home because my parents weren't happy with what I was doing,” the 26-year-old Chikkarangappa recalled his journey to DH. “My mother (Revamma) was dead against me playing golf. People in my village told my mother that I would get spoilt by playing golf because only the rich kids used to play it. Relatives just fed my mother's thoughts with all the wrong thoughts. So it was hard for me to convince her and get her approval. Even after convincing them they were not happy because I wasn't making any money. The reason I used to work as a ball boy and caddie was because of poverty back home.
“In villages even if a kid doesn't complete his education but can earn money for a living, he's respected. I figured finances were the biggest stumbling block and I chose to address it. I would wake up at 4 am and caddie for the early starters. I would make a maximum of Rs 100 and I would just give it to my parents. Then in the afternoon, I would practice hard. That's the way I balanced things out.”
Another fascinating part of Chikkarangappa, a two-time winner on the Asian Development Tour and ranked 18th this season in the Asian Tour Order of Merit with earnings of USD 77,128, is the all-round development as a professional golfer. There are many caddie-turned-pros on the circuit and while they do well on the playing aspect, they struggle on the communication front. Chikkarangappa, despite quitting school at 12, is fluent in English, Kannada and Hindi. Knowing English was necessary to be accepted in the elite golfing fraternity, he first learnt the language by buying ‘Learn English in 30 Days’ and practising those syllables in front of a mirror. He then sought the help of Lahiri and Divecha who taught him the language.
“Language was the biggest barrier for me. When I was leading in a tournament and was approaching the final few holes, I would get nervous seeing you’ll (the media). You guys asking me simple questions itself would unnerve me because I didn't know the language. I felt more pressure seeing you people rather than being in lead with a couple of holes to go. That's when I decided I needed to learn English. I took a lot of help from Anirban and Vijay sir during the initial years. A lot of people used to mock my English but I never let it affect me. I just kept learning and learning because I knew English is very important for a sportsman. I did cry when people mocked my English but I never gave up,” said Chikkarangappa, now widely respected for his communication skills and choice of attire.
That never-say-die attitude is what has helped Chikkarangappa swim through social prejudices to become one of the top young golfers in the country. He’ll be aspiring to write many more inspiring tales.