A golf competitor with the heart of a champion and nerves of steel

Dear Editor,

The 2012 Banks DIH sponsored Guyana Open played at the Lusignan Golf Club produced a thrilling display of high-class competition and those who witnessed the final three holes will never forget what they saw. Editor, I digress to quote the words of two-time Major winner, Padriag Harrington. Following his victory in the 2008 PGA Championship, he said: “I`m a great believer in making it your own responsibility whether you win or you don`t win… It`s all about that in a Major. It`s to get to the back nine in the last round and have the responsibility that it`s on your head whether you win or you don`t win. You take the shots and you take the responsibility. Some days it won`t go for you and you have to be prepared to handle that… But you`ve got to know, you`ve got to take then on the back nine. You`re not going to win any other way.“

In the world of professional golfing there are four Majors (major tournaments) annually and numerous other prestigious tournaments which offer the opportunity for golfers to achieve acclaim. In Guyana there is but a single tournament in the year that offers such an opportunity for local golfers –The Guyana Open – which is also the only tournament where the winner is the player with the best gross score (no adjustments made for handicaps). Our Open separates the men from the boys; the pressure it exerts on contenders is enormous, the bragging rights it brings with winning it are hard to conceptualize. For the ensuing twelve months the winner is the Big Dog of Lusignan. If you are a villager (Lusignan) which usually by definition means that it is a struggle and a challenge to afford the playing fees to participate in this sport, then the free annual membership that comes with being the Champion only adds to the pressure cooker atmosphere.

Last Sunday`s winner of the Open, Avinash Persaud proved how right Padraig Harrington was. Readers of the sports pages of your paper and local golfing fans would recall that at the end of day one the reigning Champion, Papo Haniff who is Trinidad based and the former Champion, Avinash Persaud were joint-leaders with scores of 75 each. The script was going according to text.

The anticipation of an exciting final day was palpable and each of these two pre-tournament favourites had considerable support in the community and fraternity. Completion of the final 18-holes would settle the question as to who was The Boss, but as Harrington says it is really the final 9-holes (the back nine) that determine the winner.

The other two players in the final group were local, Kassim Khan and Canadian based, Roger Rajkumar.

At the end of the front nine the script had gone awry. Rajkumar who started the day 3 shots behind the leaders had seized a 3-shot lead with a solid even par score of 35, over Haniff now in second place and Avinash a further 3 shots adrift. Would the title be taken to Canada this year? Many in the crowd who were following the players felt this was likely to happen. Avinash had done what would have been thought unthinkable for an elite player; he had a front nine score of 44 or 9 over par. Were his days as a Champ over – the remaining 9 holes would tell.

Hole number 10: Rajkumar – bogey (1-over par), Haniff – bogey, Avinash – par.

On the par-5, 11th hole Avinash was on the green for 2 and putting for an eagle (2-under par). His recognition that he was running out of holes saw an aggressive putt which led to his making 3-putts to make a par score on this hole. Conservative golf would not do it, he knew. Kassim, Roger and Papo each birdied (1-under par) the hole.

On the 12th hole Rajkumar would show the first chink in his armour, hitting his tee-shot out of bounds. He recovered, however, and escaped with only a double-bogey 6. Both Avinash and Haniff  made par.

Holes 13, 14 and 15 saw consecutive bogeys by Avinash. As good golfers know, this is oft-times the price one pays for playing attacking golf.

Standing on the 16th tee-box, Rajkumar had a 4-shot lead over Avinash and a 3-shot lead over Haniff with just 3 holes remaining. It was almost a foregone conclusion that a new Champion would be crowned shortly. There is a reason, however, why a winner can never be ordained, why contests always have to be played to the finish.

Avinash would crush his tee-shot on the par-5, 16th hole a prodigious 300 plus yards drive into a strong headwind. His 9-iron approach shot into the green was one close to perfection and setting up another eagle putt. This time his ball stopped inches away from the cup, leaving a tap-in birdie. Rajkumar would bogey this hole with a score of 6 when his second shot was only a few yards away from the green. Haniff also made a mess of this hole, hitting his second shot into the pond on the left of the green and leaving with a double bogey as well. The pressure was turning but were there enough holes remaining to alter the standings?

The par-3, 17th hole would provide a foretaste of what was to come, with Avinash executing a pitch shot to within one foot of the cup for a tap-in par. Haniff who had earlier 3-putted on the 15th hole would do the same here from a mere 12 or so feet.

The unerring judgment he had shown over the preceding day and a half, had now deserted him.  In Lusignan lingo the cries from the sizeable crowd that had accumulated, were audible that “pressure does burst pipe.” His first putt had barely covered half the distance to the cup – what a cruel sport this game of golf can be. Rajkumar had another bogey but still held a 1-shot lead going into the final hole. For Avinash to win, however, he would have to have a score of 2-shots better on this final hole as a tie would have resulted in Rajkumar becoming the Champion by virtue of a better second day overall score (the method of determining in such a case).

Hole 18: Rajkumar`s tee-shot on the fairway, Avinash in the rough. Advantage Rajkumar. Second shot-Rajkumar on the fringe (just off the green), Avinash on the fairway. Advantage still Rajkumar. What came next was a sorcerer`s trick. With the hole on a slope on the green, even a putt of a few feet would test the nerves of the best, let alone a shot from the fairway. Avinash proceeded, however, to demonstrate what champions are made of; they never quit, they never give up. With everything now on the line he stepped up to his ball and executed perfection. His lofted shot literally had to land on an area the size of a dime to hope to find its way to the hole. This is precisely what happened and his ball magically disappeared into the bottom of the cup. It was not over, however, as a chip and a putt would still give Rajkumar the title. It was not to be; he needed a chip and 2-putts to find the cup. His first putt though appeared to all present (and Roger would both attest and re-live this moment for the rest of his life) as heading for the centre of the cup but one inch before reaching it ran out of pace and veered right to stop an inch away. What a cruel game.

I predict that as long as golf is played at Lusignan, the pitch shot on the 36th hole would reverberate as the ultimate example of delivering under pressure. Fans who were fortunate to witness this magic on the final hole of the 2012 Open may never see its like again. What they saw was a competitor with the heart of a champion and nerves of steel; the 4-time Guyana Open Champion, Avinash Persaud.

(The clubs Avinash used were a set of hand-me-downs loaned to him by a caddie in the village who had been given same by outgoing Canadian High Commissioner, Francois Montour.

The 56 degree wedge that he used to perform his magic on the final hole had suffered from overuse to the extent that its grooves were almost worn out. He had actually only placed this particular club in his bag before the final round, having borrowed it from his younger brother Avinda (Ganguly) shortly before teeing-off.)

Yours faithfully,
Ronald Bulkan


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