ICONS FROM THE PAST
Malay Mail, 18th April, 2014
By Tony Mariadass
V. NELLAN has been playing golf for more than half a decade and is still going strong.
The former national golfer who turns 65 on Sept 30 is the professional at the Saujana Golf and Country Club in Subang, their coach and ambassador, and gives courses besides playing rounds of golf.
Nellan, who has the distinction of having played in two World Cups in 1976 (Palm Springs partnering Zainal Abidin and finishing 32nd) and 1977 (the Philippines partnering Bobby Lim) where he also recorded Malaysia’s best finish in the championship to date – 11th.
Walk into Saujana and you will not miss this bubbly person who is ever-ready to strike up a conversation with you and talk about golf for hours.
He certainly must be the longest living person to have been involved in the game in Malaysia – he started playing as a caddy at the age of 13 at the Royal Selangor Golf Club (RSGC).
Nellan eats, breathes and sleeps golf because his parents were the ground maintenance staff at RSGC and lived in the staff quarters on the fringes of the 18th hole.
He started caddying when he was seven to earn pocket money for school when he was paid 50 cents. He dropped out of school at 15 just to play golf.
At 13 (the minimum age required), he registered with the caddy club at RSGC and played golf every Sunday afternoon when the club dedicated the afternoon to the caddies to play their rounds for free.
“Golf has been my whole life and it still is. I played in my first Malaysian Open in 1969 and the last in 1989, but I have not missed watching a Malaysian Open since the first in 1962 when it was held in RSGC and I was the scorekeeper. Even when it moved to other venues, I have made it a point to be there to witness the event,” said Nellan, who will at the Maybank Malaysian Open at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club this week too.
Nellan, who recorded his first win in a championship when he won the caddies championship in 1967 and defended it the next year, has indeed had an illustrious career playing in tournaments all over the world on the finest golf courses some can only dream of and playing with golfers like Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Bernard Langer, to name a few.“But it did not come easy. It was my love for the game and sacrifices I was willing to make that kept me in the game,” said Nellan, whose best finish in the Malaysian Open was in 1974 in Ipoh when the tournament was first held outside the Klang Valley. He finished 32nd.
“I saved RM336 to travel to Ipoh to play in the Malaysian Open and bunked at Bobby’s house. Luckily, I won RM775 to have money to come back home,” laughed Neelan.
He last represented the nation in 2004, but since then he has been coaching, giving courses and being resident pro in several golf courses, both in Malaysia and Singapore. He still plays competitive golf and took part in the CIMB Classics qualifiers in the last two years.
He has won the PGA championship in 1987 and also Masters Senior Classic in 2001.
Even major surgery to remove a growth in the colon in 2006, which left him out in the cold for almost four years, did not stop him from getting back into the action.
One day, while still recovering from his surgery, he told his son he wanted to play in the Singapore Open and drove to play the next day.
“I nearly killed myself doing that although I completed the competition. But that is how much I love golf. I recovered and I am back on the course again,” said Neelan, minus his famous moustache.
“Life has been good to me. I have been given extra time to live and I want to give back to golf what it has given me,” he said.
Neelan also survived the Dec 18, 1983, crash of flight MH684 from Singapore. The plane landed 2km short of the runway at the Subang airport.
Neelan his wife and daughter, and a few more golfers, including M. Ramayah, were returning from a tournament when the Airbus 300-B4 in heavy rain clipped some trees on its descent before the landing gear struck the ground. There were no fatalities, but the plane was damaged beyond repair.
Thinking about the crash, Neelan said he prays and hopes every day that the passengers of MH370 will miraculously return home safely.
On the current Malaysian golf scene, Nellan has much to say, but said that it has to be heard and implemented.
“For starters, where are the public courses? Even the caddies these days do not have a chance to play. We need to make the game public and make the game available to all if we want to see good golfers emerging,” said Nellan passionately.
“We need to have a resident school just for golf with a golf course so that school children interested in the game can take it up from young.
“Our players need to play in many tournaments and be based overseas if they are to progress to the next level. At home we need to have tougher courses here for our players to improve.
“The Japanese and Koreans are here in huge numbers and plant their children here for training because it is more affordable in Malaysia than in Japan. But for us, it is still a rich man’s game.”
Neelan is still very much in demand and if everything works out, he could be hired to do some development programme in the US or Tanzania.
A loss to Malaysia indeed.