‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ - Famous African proverb
In the case of Nepal’s Subash Tamang, that process has involved a village, a city, a couple of golf courses and two nations, a handful of benevolent believers, a bunch of ballboys (spotters) and caddies and the wider ecosystem of golf to help him reach this week’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) as No. 105 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR).
Just to appreciate the magnitude of that achievement, Nepal Golf officials can’t recall the last time an amateur from their country rose to inside the top-1000 of WAGR.
The ascent becomes more astonishing when you consider that nine years ago, an 11-year-old Tamang had no idea about the existence of a sport called golf.
“I did not know about golf. Or any other popular sport like football or cricket. Growing up in poverty and in a remote region, we did not have any concept of weekends or holidays. We were working every day, and if we got time, we’d just run up and down the mountains,” said Tamang, son of dad Uttam and mom Sanumaya.
“My parents make bricks from mud in the village. I dropped out of school when in Class 3 because they could not afford my education, or proper clothing and food. I started helping them make bricks so that we earned enough as a family.
“Life was tough and my mother sent me to the capital Kathmandu to help her sister. She had a small child, and I was his babysitter. I think my parents thought my life would be easier there.”
That life-changing moment
One of Tamang’s cousins worked as a ballboy in Royal Nepal Golf Club (RNGC), the first piece of real estate that you see the moment you emerge from Kathmandu’s quaint Tribhuvan International Airport.
One day, his aunt asked him to deliver food to the cousin at the golf course. Little did Tamang know it was going to be the most transformative moment of his career.
“I just saw the open and manicured fairways of the golf course and fell in love with it. When my cousin asked if I wanted to join him as a ballboy, I jumped at the offer,” said the shy Tamang, who was making less than a couple of dollars when he started as a ballboy.
Tamang watched golfers hit balls for nearly one year. And every day, when the range would close, he would be given one club, mostly a worn-out wedge, to use it in collecting the balls. That was how he started to swing the golf club.
“I’d hold the club (with a baseball grip) and swing. It was another ballboy, called Binod Tamang, who showed me the Vardon grip,” added Tamang.
Tashi Ghale, a businessman in Kathmandu and President of the Nepal Golf Association, saw Tamang shadow-swinging one day, and he asked him to hit a few balls.
“I was amazed at his swing and his ball striking. There was something very natural in him,” said Ghale, who took him under his wing and been a mentor ever since.
“I took him to Deepak Acharya, who is Director of Operations and a teaching professional at Gokarna Golf Club. Deepak coached him and allowed him to play and practise at the course. We have been on an amazing journey from those days.”
The move to India
Ghale and Acharya have plotted Tamang’s progress ever since. Earlier this year, realising that he needed more exposure, better facilities and all-round coaching, they approached Tarun Sardesai, a coach in Bengaluru, India, who operates a residential golf academy.
Sardesai was so impressed with Tamang’s swing and attitude towards golf, he immediately offered him a 100% scholarship.
Also joining Tamang in Bengaluru was Acharya’s 16-year-old son, Sadbhav, also a participant at the AAC this year.
“Deepak sir is like family to me now and Sadbhav is my brother. Tashi sir is my father figure. I can never thank them enough for what they have done for me,” said Tamang.
Four years younger than Tamang, the educated Sadbhav often acts like the elder brother in the relationship.
“He is like a family member for us. Language is a bit of a barrier for him, so I tend to help him when we are traveling, but really, he does more for me. He is an inspiration. I remember once my dad came back home late, and I just asked him about Subash. And dad said when he left the golf course, Subash was still practising in pitch darkness. He definitely makes me want to get better,” said Acharya.
Zen-like approach to golf
In his free time, Tamang likes to watch videos of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. And while Sardesai would not say his pupil would reach the heights achieve by those two superstars, he has high hopes.
“If he continues like this, I see him as a top-10 player in Asia in the next 4-5 years,” said Sardesai.
“Both him and Sadbhav, they are such a joy to have. They motivate each other. On most days, they are the last two guys to leave the practice area.
“The moment Subhash saw him for the first time, it was the beauty and the simplicity of his golf swing, and his rhythm, that amazed me.
“However, more than the golf swing, it is his attitude. He has such a calm demeanour. He goes into tournaments not expecting anything. He will make a mistake, and he’d forget about it in no time. Nothing bothers him. He is just grateful with how life has treated him.”
Tamang can feel he is getting better in what he does. Nutritionist Sheila Rai, a Nepali based in the city of Kolkata, was recommended to Acharya by another golf coach, and she has made a perceptible difference in how both Tamang and Sadbhav are shaping up physically. New technology like the Mach 3 Speed system at Sardesai’s academy is adding vital yards to their distance.
“In just three months, I am hitting my driver about 285-290 yards, which is almost a 10-15 yard addition. It goes down to my whole set of clubs. The 9-iron that I was hitting 140 yards, I can reach 155 yards now,” said Tamang.
The role of The R&A and The Masters
Ghale is quick to point out that a new set of golf clubs are also helping, and that has come through some of the fund that Nepal Golf Association received from The R&A for development programmes.
“There is also the fact that I am getting to play tournaments like the AAC this week. I have been looking forward to this for so many months,” added Tamang.
“Winning this week and playing The Masters and The Open would be a dream. I don’t even think of those things because I have a long way to go. I just want to play well and show my gratitude to this tournament for giving me this opportunity.”
Acharya is happy to go with the flow for both Tamang and Sadbhav.
“We really don’t know what the future holds for Tamang and when he should take the decision of turning pro. Sadbhav has a few more years as he is still in school. Subhash wants to improve, but I see no reason why he can’t become a part of the PGT of India Tour (professional circuit in India), and then graduate to the Asian Tour,” said Acharya.
“I’d like to remain an amateur for the next few years and become No.1 on WAGR. It is difficult because we don’t have any sponsorship back home for amateurs. I have had so much financial help and support from others, but I will have to take the responsibility on my own shoulders soon. I don’t know how long I will be able to hold off the decision to turn pro,” said the ultra-respectful Tamang.
“I want to make life easier for my parents. They still do not understand what I do, but they see my name in the papers and are so proud.
“Golf has given me everything. Sometimes, I just sit back and think I must have done something incredibly good in my past life to be so lucky, so blessed. So many people have believed in me. I just want to repay them for the faith they have had in me.”
by Joy Chakravarty