Catching up with Baaz

Shubhankar Sharma leads in Mexico heading into Sunday at the first World golf championship of the year. The on-course mics caught Sharma and his caddy Gurbaaz ‘Baaz’ Mann talking in Hindi much to the delight of Indian fans back home.

Baaz who has had a front seat to the Sharma show is a well-known mentor and club fitter to a number of players up north in Chandigarh where he moved back after a few years at Columbus, Ohio in the United States. For him, this role as a confidant was years in the making.

Mann was originally a footballer. Growing up he looked up to German striker Jurgen Klinsmann. He also played tennis like his father Ishwar Pratap Singh Mann who was captain of the Punjab University Lawn Tennis team.

While he played golf when he was younger, the interest in his words came later. Speaking from the range at the Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico, he says “I was probably 16 or 17 when I shot 67 in a junior tournament in Chandigarh. At the time it was unheard of to shoot such a low score in that age division.” Mann would go on to become the number one ranked junior in the country.

After finishing school, he took the college golf route in the States walking on at Arizona State University (ASU) known for producing golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Pat Perez, Chez Reavie and Alejandro Canizares. The latter two were on the team when Mann showed up to study business and play golf for Randy Lein.

He adds “It was a great experience, Canizares would go on to become the NCAA individual champion while leading ASU to the team championship in 2003.”

A year later, the prodigious long-hitter moved back to India and turned professional. “I came home from college and decided to play on the then Professional Golf Association of India (PGAI) tour which in my opinion was the best decision I took.”

Baaz at the PGTI Players Championship in 2013 at Mewat, Haryana where he finished runner-up to Rashid Khan
Photo credit – PGTI Website

He would go on to win the Surya Nepal Masters before a stint on the Asian Tour in 2006-2007. It was a bad hip injury that derailed him. Undiagnosed for three years, Mann discovered that he had a labrum tear which meant that his cartilage had torn.

After surgery to fix his problems, Mann wanted to put together what he had learned to come up with a system to help aspiring professionals. In his travels around the world, he met with many club fitting companies and individuals involved in the club making business.

“My goal is to put club fitting and teaching together. A golfer should expect the same response with all fourteen clubs in his bag.” offers Mann who has also spoken at the World Scientific Congress of Golf. He is quick to note that this is not the same as coaching.

“Call it mentoring instead. I have to understand what the player goes through – mood swings, the positives, luck.”

It was Sharma’s father Colonel Mohan who watched Mann go through the paces at the Chandigarh Golf Academy (CGA). He encouraged Mann, telling him that he had a different role to play, and should keep updating himself. Then there is the story of how he set up the Indo-American PGA which is well documented.

There was also a connection, as Mann’s late father who was the President at the Chandigarh Golf Club gave Shubhankar access to practice and play at the course. The senior Mann was a well-known amateur in his own right, winning amongst other accolades a bronze medal at the Asia Pacific Senior Golf Championship in 2010.

“Shubhankar saw me caddy for Ajeetesh (Sandhu) at the Take Solution in Bangalore. We made adjustments in his putting on the way to a 3rd place finish,” says Gurbaaz.

The first time the two worked together was in South Korea at the Shinhan Donghae Open earlier last year. While Ajeetesh remains Baaz’s primary commitment on the bag, he is happy to help Shubhankar.

“Caddying is up close and personal. Everything is about gauging the situation. Shubhankar’s success is an attribute to the work put in two months ago. He is a quick learner, normally anyone else would take 5-6 months to process the same information and make it work.”

If Shubhankar is able to walk away from Mexico with a card to play in the States, Baaz will be there to assist him, scouting for a full-time caddy apart from anything else the 21-year-old may need.

The ASU connection runs strong, as Shubhankar tees off in the last group with Mickelson who has by his side brother Tim Mickelson, a former golf coach at ASU.
Baaz is yet to mention the connection but looks forward to the opportunity to play with the five-time major winner.

Posted in Golf, Sport | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cinderella story outta nowhere

(By Shreyashi Roy & Aman Misra)

In the 1980 movie Caddyshack, Bill Murray plays Carl Spackler in the role of the greenskeeper commissioned to look after Bushwood Country Club. The famous scene has him hacking away at flowers outside the clubhouse while he imagines himself holing out to win the Masters tournament.

Cinderella Story

“It’s in the hole!”

With apologies to Nawazuddin Siddiqui if this were rewritten for Bollywood, SSP Chawrasia would play the role of the protagonist Danny Noonan who works his way up to the big-time. In Spackler’s words, ‘a Cinderella story, outta nowhere’.

Chow as he fondly known on tour, spoke to us after getting recommended for the Arjuna Award in a year which he successfully defended his Indian Open crown.

“The Arjuna was a dream. Sheikh Jamshed Ali was the first to win the award in 1975 when I wasn’t even born! Until today I’ve kept a photograph of him receiving the award with me. Since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to win this. Knowing that I have finally been chosen this year makes me happy because I have fulfilled my desire.”

Sheikh Jamshed Ali

Indian golf’s first Arjuna Awardee Sheikh Jamshed Ali (Photo from The Telegraph Kolkata website)

Both are part of a legacy of golfers produced from the Royal Calcutta Golf Club in Kolkata. Ali passed in 2005 after a long battle with throat cancer, but in Chawrasia remains the link to a glorious past of self-made golfers that adopted the game played by British sahibs back in the day.

When you bring up his European Tour wins, he is quick to point out that all were in India. His peers on tour have branded him the “Indian Jack Nicklaus” for his dominance at home. Even if you consider that he has won on foreign soil in Manila, November 2016, for Chawrasia the goal is to win in Europe.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 10.07.52 AM

“To play at that level, you need all the shots in the bag otherwise you cannot survive.” offers the veteran who is currently number two on the Asian Tour Order of merit.

Veteran journalist Joy Chakravarty took us back to the 2011 Avantha Masters when the Kolkata golfer won for the second time on the European Tour, and in the process retained his card.
“When he holed out on the 18th, naturally the cameras rushed to him – and I remember he kept saying  Abar Europe jabo!(I am going to play in Europe again!)”

It is a telling sign, what his greatest ambition is. A golfer reaches his peak between the ages of 32-35. This year in May SSP turned 39, but has no plans to slow down. “If I could, I’d happily play for a living all my life.”

While a bothersome back kept him home for this week’s Fiji International, Ranadeep Moitra posted a video on Instagram where he puts SSP through the ropes in the gym at the RCGC during his off week which is testamen to his work ethic everyone talks about.

Expect him to be back in action soon – searching for his magnum opus, that elusive win in continental Europe

Posted in Golf, Sport | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mangoes in Summer, Carrots in Winter

When you grow up in India, you’re always offered fruit and vegetables to eat at home depending on the season. In the summer Pops would always bring back mangoes in the official bazaar bag – a big white and ugly plastic bag with a single red line running down at one end. In winter with all the lectures came carrots – juicy and bright in the white,ugly bag. Living away from home now leaves little option. Oh the luxury of mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

2016 unlike 2015 hasn’t been a silent year. This year I’ve written on noisy trains with people passing tea in the middle of my screen. I’ve typed furiously on a short flight while the air hostesses showed us how to wear our lifejackets. In a cab, in a hurry with the latest Punjabi beats on tap and even in an elevator before a presentation. In Bangalore, with a submission on the line – the three and a half kilometer drive from the tube to the office was enough time to proof read the piece in an auto rickshaw. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

The soul of my machine is well traveled – maybe even more than I have now. Life is so different I don’t even react  to it anymore. So when an old school friend called on me explaining that she was getting older and she wanted me over I didn’t blink twice. Late nights had been the norm and I was looking forward to none of it. A horrible throat earlier in the week had me against the ropes, almost dead but I kicked the bucket and hailed the last bus off campus. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

The last thing on my mind that Saturday night was meeting someone I hadn’t seen in a while. Some are doctors. Some are lawyers – they’re an illusion to me now. I wonder what they’re doing with their lives now? The apartment wore a rugged look since I was last there. Shadows of my previous visit lurked in the dark corners and as the evening wore on they faded in the distance to make way for my current one. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

She was first seeing someone when we first met, soon to be single. I’d always ask about her when I called that side of town so far, warm and brighter than my room here at university. Sometimes I’d see the occasional post and think of her but that was it. She walked in and we immediately hit it off. Not a word was spoke between us, everything was unresolved. She said we should move this to her place. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

In a matter of minutes we were on her balcony staring at the far horizon – the abyss that made up the landscape view out of her apartment. A cigarette passed between us was the only sign of physical contact as the cold night wore on. The smoke disappeared into thin air like most of my life but something convinced to hang around a little longer. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

Back at the party we were wanted. As the elevator took us between the floors,it would be poetic justice to say we looked at each other and smiled – but it would tragic as well to say I looked at her and smiled while leaving her reaction for the reader to figure out for themselves. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

As usual like the damn Batman sign in the sky, work beckoned – there’s always bills to pay whispered my evil head to me. The night ended with me texting her I’d be leaving the next morning. She asked me to wake her up before I left. At so many levels I began wondering if I should call or not. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

She was ready downstairs, revving up her dusty sedan. Very kindly I was offered a ride back to the place I tried not to belong. We drove that car as far as we could. The rest of the morning was a blur, coffee and aloo paratha before life came calling. As I watched the dark shiny car pull away I wondered. Mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

You can’t have em’ all. In the cold of the winter staring at the paint peeling from my hostel room, the only noise I hear is the rhythmic tapping of keys. There is a deathly silence punctuating the air as the end of the year approaches. All this while the impression I had of a writer was exactly that – sitting like Hemingway or Kerouac did. Or a great leader like Napoleon did in his time. How wrong could I be?

As wrong as mangoes in summer, carrots in winter.

Posted in "Changing Times", Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment