ARJUNA for SSP Chawrasia

SSP Chaurasia receiving the Arjuna Award from Shri. Ram Nath Kovind, Hon’ble President of India
SSP’s parents and his niece
India’s golfi ng Arujna Awardee takes time off to talk to Farzan Heerjee about his pursuit of excellence; his inspirations; and his future… The sheer grandeur of the hallowed hall; the palpable reverence in the air; the ‘mightiness’ of the honour that he was about to receive; the
conscientiousness of the man it was named after and the importance of the man who was conferring the award on him was overpowering. Yet when
Kolkata’s own Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia walked up to the Hon’ble President of India to receive the Arjuna award last evening, his thoughts turned to his mother, Shiv Kumari, without whom none of this would have been possible and to a near forgotten hero of Indian golf, Jamshed Ali.

“The Arjuna award is a dream come true; it was a dream that I nurtured from my childhood when I had heard of Jamshed Ali having won the award. That was before I was born but I kept a photograph of his award with me and unknown to anyone dreamt about getting it one day. It has been an inspiration; not always overtly but stayed in the recesses of my mind as I focused on my game. Today, the dream has come true; I am very happy; I am happier that it has come to Kolkata and to my Club (RCGC); I am proud to be following in the footsteps of the great Arjuna Awardees for golf in India”. (Insert a box with list of Arjuna Awardees).

It was at the Take Solution Master tournament, on the KGA Bangalore course, that a journalist came and whispered the news to Chawrasia on August 3. “I had known that the IGU had recommended my name, along with Aditi Ashok’s for the Arjuna and had been told that “recommend ho gaya to mil jaayega” but it felt wonderful to receive the information. It was good that I got the news playing in a tournament that bore the
name of my sponsor, Take Solution Master, a Chennai based IT company. Sponsors are the lifeline for golfers without sponsorships, talent does not blossom”. “Back in Kolkata, it was time to explain to my mom what this award meant. She was happy that I got an award but realized its great signifi cance once I told her”. This was the lady who told him to go and get what his heart was set on when the greatly talented Chawrasia wanted to make a career of golf. Descendants of paan-makers — the famous Banarasi paan — father Ganesh Prasad chose to chuck the family tradition and travel to Kolkata in search of his fortune. Fortune smiled on the man whom Kolkata had provided refuge to more than six decades ago when one generation down the line, his awardwinning son bore the fruit of the golfing seeds he had painstakingly sown. Today,
the second generation Chawrasia (SSP’s nephew) also plays amateur golf for India and is at the No 3. “He has just started playing internationally” says SSP proudly.

List of Arjun Awardees in Golf

1961 Mr P G Sethi
1963 Mr. A S Malik
1967 Mr R K Pitamber
1972 Mrs Anjani Desai
1973 Mr Vikramjit Singh
1975 Mr S K Jamshed
1977 Mrs Sita Rawlley
1982 Mr Lakshman Singh
1987 Ms Nonita Lall
1991 Mr Ali Sher
1996 Mr Amit Luthra
1997 Mr Harmeet Kahlon
1999 Mr Jeev Milkha Singh
2002 Mr Shiv Kapur
2004 Mr Jyotinder Singh Randhawa
2007 Mr Arjun Atwal
2013 Mr Gagnjeet Bhullar
2014 Mr Anirban Lahiri
2017 Mr Shiv Sankar Prasad Chawrasia

Ganesh Prasad made his humble home at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club where he served as a greens-keeper and managed to raise his family on a very modest income. Older son Vijay Prasad clearly had the makings of a golfer and tried to remain in the game even if it meant working as a caddie. Having played amateur golf, Vijay Prasad virtually cleared the way for his younger sibling, giving up the pursuit when he could no longer afford it. SSP was probably made of sterner stuff and strove on to become a professional golfer, come what may. If father Ganesh Prasad was about cautious optimism reminding the son that it was not a luxury that a poor man’s son could afford; mother Shiv Kumari always managed to fi nd the money to support his game.
It was at the Patna Open in 1977 that the jinx fi nally broke with a collection of Rs. 3,735 that spared him the blushes to having to go back to his mother for money. There has been enough by way of prize money since then. Some courses have been extra kind to him. He has won three Tata Opens but last went there in 2006. He will of course visit the Jamshedpur Greens again on the invitation of Sunil Bhaskaran, Golf Captain, Jamshedpur, to be feted by the Steel City for having won the Arjuna and possibly allow the budding talent there to rub shoulders with him. “I grew up admiring Basad Ali, Feroz Ali, Rafi q Ali and my brother who also played then. I was in awe of Rohtas, Mukesh Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Sanjay Kumar but I did not know much about international players. I never imagined that I would play internationally. Today, Tiger Woods is my idol because he took golf to such stupendous heights. May be things are not going his way now but he will always be my idol. I have talked to him and played alongside him in the same tournament though never with him” says Chawrasia.
One needs 100 percent dedication; an appetite to excel, support — financial and coaching — of the right kind and at the right time, many sources of inspiration and, of course, a certain measure of luck to accomplish great feats in sportsmanship. Chawrasia was awestruck by the kind of dedication that he witnessed at the Olympic Village when he went to represent
SSP with his wife Simantini
SSP cherishing the moments
India in 2016. “It was a spellbinding experience for me; I had never imagined what kind of dedication went into making Olympic champions. They just practiced non-stop, coaches in tow. There was no relaxation,
no amusement; just a single minded pursuit of excellence. It was a learning experience for me and a source of inspiration because even though we are serious about practice and fitness, it is nothing compared to the professionalism of these athletes”. This is what the young and ambitious in the country need to understand. There is no alternative to hard work and
dedication. There is no place for superstition; every iron is special and his every club in his bag is a “favourite” for him. Meanwhile, golf like many individual games, is a strange master. Chawrasia goes on to say: “You are on top one day and underperforming the next. I am very disappointed with my European tour and want to play well consistently before I go for the PGA tours. I have played a couple of games in America though”. He is now working with Sandip Verma, first a friend and then an A category coach and referee. “I have been interacting with him and find him not only comforting but also helping me improve my game. I also meditate under the professional help of Ipsita Sahay for at least 5-6 hours a week”.
The next two tournaments in 2017 will be Malaysia and Australia 2017 and “I have to concentrate on my putting”, he remarks, precisely underscoring the point about form and confi dence levels. SSP Chawrasia’s primary fame to claim was his extraordinary chipping and putting ability; he never missed a put and that won him the sobriquet ‘Chipputt-Chaurasia’.
Of course his long game has improved tremendously since those early days. It was at the recent Indian Open, at the DLF course, that he came into his own. “The course is among the toughest in the world; certainly the toughest in Asia, perhaps even tougher by European standards. I was there two days earlier and had a couple of practice sessions and it helped me plan my game. One had to hit the ball straight and place it right. I did a 36 hole practice round. Fortunately, I also played well!” In fact, Chawrasia won the game by a huge margin. Financial and domestic stability assured, Chawrasia married his sweetheart Siminthini and they have a labrador. At 39, the focus also turns to the future. “Probably another 8-9 years of golf”, says Chawrasia. “The good thing about golf is that you choose your retirement and do not get thrown out for lack of form. You give yourself room to improve your form and stage a come- back” The more important thing is to ensure that India’s huge golfi ng talent, especially amongst the underprivileged, gets a sporting chance to make it. This has inspired the setting up of the SSP Chawrasia foundation. “I am focusing on this. I am mentally ready for this. The trustees are all golfers who will take care of the foundation. Coach Sandip Verma will help. We will hire coaches to help budding golfers, especially from the, grassroots. The club (RCGC) too has assured me of help without which I cannot provide the practice facilities”. “That is the biggest challenge for golf. It needs sponsors and not just for golf. Indian tournaments should get more professional too; some of them get cancelled and that is very upsetting. Tournaments should be stabilized. This will help youngsters play and observe great players. For me, playing with big players has been inspirational. I have watched them for hours and have learnt about developing my mental strength. Without that and without hard work, there can be no success”. There is a supporting administrative infrastructure in place for golf with the IGU supporting you when you are initiated into the game, providing exposure for domestic golf and for even playing internationally. Then when one turns professional the PGTI takes over and looks after the players’ interests in terms of scheduling tournaments, conduct of tournaments, prize money and sponsorship and such others.
SSP with Farzan Heerjee
L to R: Farzan Heerjee, SSP Chawrasia with the Sr. Journalist Aditi Roy Ghatak
Talk of support takes his thoughts back to his mother: “Make your game such that you do not need money from anyone” she had said, handing over what would be the last bit of money that she could afford to give him. Call it luck, call it destiny, by the time the son returned, he had earned enough to return the last instalment to his mother and never had to turn to her for money despite the many ups and downs in his career including fi nancial troughs. There was always enough to support him and keep him going.

He ended the conversation on a lingering note, perhaps a wishful thought, saying “I do not ever want any more talent to go a begging…”

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