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     Volume 4 Issue 40 | April 1, 2005 |

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Aiming For The Green

Twenty-two year old Siddique has overcome all odds in open Amateur Golf becoming the reigning Champion, three tournaments in a row. He is the first Bangladeshi ever to win in the All-India Amateur Golf Championship tournament, considered to be the second oldest tournament in golf.

Imran H. Khan

The next time you are in a field and you hear someone shouting 'fore'-- duck! It may be something to rejoice about in cricket but in the realm of golf, it means that someone's golf-ball is heading your way.

In developed countries, the popularity of golf has skyrocketed in recent years. In Bangladesh, golf has yet to find a passionate audience that football and cricket have and is still a very exclusive sport. This may partly be due to its lack of accessibility and the fact that it does not have the broad visibility for the audience that other sports have. Another thing is that the spectators have to do a lot of 'walking' from course to course, while most of us prefer to stay at home and make our way from course to course at the luncheon table to gobble up whatever comes our way. However, among a small elite group of people its popularity is on the incline and a rare few are even making headlines. One such budding golfer is Mohammad Siddiqur Rahman.

Siddiqur Rahman has changed his stars and is now playing his dreams, but life was not always like this. He joined the golfing world as a ball boy at the Kurmitola Golf Club (KGC) in Cantonment. "We could play golf on the course once a week on Monday. And I developed an addiction for this game," says Rahman. "We had a tournament for the junior players around the year 1996." The participants were usually the children of the club members and some other people from the club. "I took part in that tournament and came second." He continued the sport because he knew that his dream to excel in this field was never a misplaced one.

His lucky break came in 1999 when a few boys from Kurmitola Golf Club were placed on the national team to play in Pakistan. There was stiff competition and only three candidates out of more than 40 were chosen. Among the lucky three was Siddiqur Rahman. "My first tournament was on October 14, 1999 in Lahore, Pakistan," says a sparkling eyed Rahman. "The Lahore Gymkhana Golf Club invited us to represent Bangladesh," he adds. Out of the three Bangladeshi amateurs to compete in that tournament, Rahman performed the best. "I felt really good after that game. It gave me an idea how people played at the international level, I was pretty confident that I would improve in the future," he recalls. But playing in tournaments, national or otherwise, requires financial solvency not only because of the expensive equipment involved but also because of the time and dedication required. All the costs that the team had to bear abroad were being taken care of by the Bangladesh Golf Federation and they continue to back these promising youngsters.

Rahman has had a number of accolades and his trophies include the Champion trophy of the 2001 Bangladesh Open Amateur Tournament sponsored by Partex, becoming the first Bangladeshi to clinch the title. He won in Bangladesh again at the Bangladesh Amateur Tournament in the beginning of 2005, after having been the runner-up the two previous years. In 2003, he became the runner-up at the SAARC Golf Tournament, after having clinched two championship trophies in 2002 and 2003 in the Dutch-Bangla Pro-Am Championship.

His other booties include the Nepal Amateur Open 2003 in May, again becoming the first Bangladeshi to win such a tournament. For Rahman, it is a victory that he had long been waiting to claim. The year 2004 found Rahman back in Nepal as the defending champion in the Nepal Amateur Golf Championship as he had won the title here last year. Here again, he overcame all odds and went on to become the champion, beating formidable opponents from many other nations. The tournament will take place again in December 2005, and Rahman is confident that he will be able to complete his hat-trick.

Back from Nepal, Rahman teed off in the Bangladesh Amateur Golf Championship 2004. The tournament had been postponed until 2005 because of the tsunami. Rahman, still basking in the joy of his victory in Nepal, became the champion again.

The latest trophy on his mantelpiece is from India. This March, Rahman beat India's AS Lehal 3 and 2 in a 36-hole affair in the Eveready 104 All-India Amateur Golf Championship. The event was the grand finale of the Royal Challenge Indian Golf Tour's 2004-05 season. The win was sweet revenge for Rahman as he had lost to Lehal in the second round of the All-Indian Amateur Championship in 2003. There were 128 participants in the tournaments from six nations. Rahman managed to keep his cool and his swing right, and in the end, became the first Bangladeshi ever to win in this tournament, considered to be the second oldest tournament in golf.

Rahman made history by becoming the first amateur to win a golf tournament outside of Bangladesh. This is also the first time ever that someone at amateur level has won three such events, including the Nepal Amateur and Bangladesh Amateur, back to back. In his most recent game in Sri Lanka, Rahman has suffered a rather bad spin and came in sixth. "If I had studied the course a little more, I would have done much better," he explains.

Rahman feels obliged to Bangladesh Golf Federation and Kurmitola Golf Club. "They have given me a lot of support," he says. "Kurmitola have now made me a special member and I can drop in for practice whenever I want."

Though psychological backing is a big factor, in the international circle, money is the driving force. "My current sponsor is Grameen Phone and they are paying me Tk.18,000 every month." This may sound like a good deal, but the sponsorship expires in October 2005 and then Rahman must start wondering again about how to bear the costs of his passion.

Rahman's enthusiasm for the game encouraged people to give a helping hand. Initially, the Club offered some support and later other sponsors chipped in after witnessing his expertise and dedication. Among his sponsors were Square and club members like Syed Iqbal Azim, a businessman and KGC member. To this day, Azim is still paying Rahman a fee every month. The amount may seem small but every bit helps and Rahman knows that he can always go to Azim for assistance.

This is Rahman's sixth year running as an amateur golf player and he has represented Bangladesh in India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Qatar. There are five players at the amateur level and Bangladesh Golf Federation along with Kurmitola Golf Club is giving them a lot of backing. But not everyone has the ability to explore the international boundaries. "It would be nice if I could attend golf matches outside of Asia. It would give me a chance to compete on a whole new level," says Rahman.

"I used to follow a trainer, Sada Hidayaki, from Japan, an interior designer. He has some strict principles and I try my best to abide by them. He guided the Amateur team and used to come to the Club whenever he was free," he adds. At this time, the Amateur squad has no coach but with someone like Hidayaki at the helm, Bangladesh could go far.

General Secretary of Bangladesh Golf Federation and the current Captain of KGC, Manzoor Ahmed, is proud of Rahman's achievement. "Winning the 104 All India Championship is like the national cricket team winning the Ranji Trophy in India...even better. This is the most important amateur golf championship in Asia and only the best are selected to compete here," says Ahmed. "Rahman has also made history in Asia by becoming the first amateur to win three such championships in a row."

Rahman plans to go Professional next year in May, but that will only be possible if he has the financial backing to follow. As a player he shows calm under pressure and possesses abundant talent. At 22, he is yet to reach his peak, but has achieved much since his entry into this field at the tender age of 16. "I have completed my SSC and have also given my TOEFL as I move in an international circle, and it makes communication very important," he explains. He hopes to open his own Golf School someday.

Rahman represents a rare breed of individuals who can beat the odds no matter how intimidating and come out with flying colours. Golf may not evoke much interest in his home country today but Rahman's outstanding performance promises to put Bangladesh on the international golfing scene.


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