M. RAMAYAH REMAINS A SHINING EXAMPLE OF WHAT DEDICATION CAN ACHIEVE
One of Malaysia's first touring professionals on his incredible journey.
AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS CAREER he was crossing swords with world class players like major champions Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Retief Goosen and the like. Now, after years spent as Malaysia’s first globe-trotting golf professional, Marimuthu Ramayah, has settled into a coaching role at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
There, you can see the 62-year-old casting an eagle eye on a youngster’s swing spotting the defects and advising the repair work. Unlike some, he doesn’t overly rely on technology like video recordings, launch monitors or other state of the art gizmos.
“I use my eyes. Believe me I can tell what’s going on with your swing by just looking at your swing just once,” snorted Malaysia’s first true touring pro and number one player for many years.
Ramayah was Malaysia’s No.1 from 1976 to 1997, a period of 21 years. He played in 13 World Cups and three World Cup qualifiers an individual record that looks set to remain for a long time.
In between he has been a regional force winning three Malaysian PGA championships, one Thai PGA, one Philippines PGA, one Singapore PGA and one Thai Senior Open event. This is in addition to countless local tournament victories.
He has played in the Dunhill Cup in St. Andrews, Scotland and was part of the 1998 Johnnie Walker Super Tour with Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Jesper Parnevik and Laura Davies.
In a career that has been prolific as it has been high profile, Ramayah has gone through many trials and tribulations like most golfing nomads travelling across Asia and Australia plying his trade. In some ways he was the quintessential journeyman, taking the bitter with the sweet, missed cut to trophy moments with grace and patience.
While he has celebrated many victories in a successful career one of his significant milestones remains his performance in an invitational tournament – the President Marcos Invitation in December, 1981 at the same time that the Philippines was staging the Southeast Asian Games.
“Nazamudin (Yusof) and I were playing in Australia when we received word of the invitation to play in the Philippines,” recalled Ramayah.
“When we first arrived we saw players like David Graham from Australia taking part. Despite the field I told myself I can play as good as these guys, I knew I could make the shots I needed,” he added.
Located on the coast which had just been battered by a typhoon, the Puerto Azul course in Ternate, outside of Manila was not long by any means but it was a windswept layout with lots of the course still soggy.
Ramayah produced an opening 73 and found himself in the top 20 in a field that included Graham, former US Open champion Billy Casper and young phenom in Bernhard Langer of West Germany.
The tough conditions made scoring difficult as almost every hole featured the menacing wind. The par-71 course featured 27 holes – the Woodside, Bayside and Cliffside nines which were designed by South African legend Gary Player and opened for play in 1978.
Ramayah’s spirits were boosted with the arrival of members of the Royal Perak Golf Club where he was resident pro at the time. He added a 75 and found himself just three shots adrift of pace-setter Langer.
“I birdied the first three holes then parred 4, 5 and 6 before grabbing another birdie at 7. I started to concentrate more as the going was getting tougher. I had to play into the wind on the 10th but managed to make par there and the 11th,” he related.
But Ramayah went from strength-tostrength nailing birdies at 12 and 13. “I was 7-under already and started to panic, my hands were shaking. I saw more and more spectators come to watch my flight.
“I remember using a 7-iron to reach the green on 16. I didn’t know I was leading at the time as there were no scoreboards.
“Then on 17 I hit what they call a bad good shot into the wind. It headed into the rough but got a bounce that ended up on the edge of the green. My hands were shaking and I three putted falling to six under.
“On the final hole I hit a 5-iron to the back of the green where the pin was positioned and managed to save par for a 6-under-par 65. I signed my scorecard and went to the caddy shed to look for my caddy and saw a group of bodyguards surrounding President Marcos who sat just behind the final green.
“I went up and wished him and he invited me to sit next to him to watch Langer’s flight coming in. I was told I was three shots ahead of him.
“During the prize-giving I didn’t say many words except to thank everyone for inviting me and expressed my hope to return to defend my title. (President) Marcos stood up and confirmed I would be invited again!” said Ramayah.
“That was the best week I had. That tournament was very special for me,” he observed.
13 years later Ramayah would climb a higher mountain, showing how good a player he had become. He took part in the World Cup together with the late Periasamy Gunasegaran at Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico in 1994.
But there was a twisted tale behind that famous outing, a behind-the-scenes scenario that showed how the Malaysian managed to improvise in a period when the most important part of his game went into hiding.
Ramayah made his World Cup debut in 1979 in Athens, Greece playing alongside Nazamuddin. The tournament was won by Americans Hale Irwin and John Mahaffey and Malaysia finished 13th.
He also played in the 1982 World Cup in
Acapulco, Mexico with the late Eshak Bluah as well as at Pondok Indah, Jakarta, Indonesia the following year.
But he remembers 1994 for many reasons. Playing the week before the World Cup in Singapore he was having a harrowing time on the greens.
He was suffering from an extreme case of putting yips. “My hands would shake. I couldn’t do it. Even a one-footer. It was horrible. I three-putted six holes in a row and missed the cut,” he said.
By the coming Monday he and Guna had to take several flights in a long journey to San Juan. The flight would land at Los Angeles before transferring to a Miami where they had a six hour stopover in which time he had to find an antidote for his putting malaise.
“I was wondering how to solve my problem,” he said. “I had this jabbing putting motion. When we got into Miami there was a long stopover so I was watching TV and Fred Couples was putting.
“I noticed he was putting left hand up, right hand down which was opposite of what I was doing. I was analysing Fred’s movements and trying to adopt it.
“The first thing I did after checking into the hotel in Puerto Rico was to take my putter and head to the putting green.
“There I saw Fred putting so I watched him closely and practised the same style. Basically on the swing side I have modelled myself to Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo. Fortunately, Faldo was at the practice range so I was watching him swing and making mental notes,” he said.
“So during the tournament I adjusted (my putting method) here and there and it worked well for me,” said the then 39-year-old.
By the time Thursday came and the start of the tournament all the eleventh-hour toying around seem to work. He fired an opening 8-under-par 64 which gave him the clubhouse lead for the day. Fred Couples would later finish his final two holes on Friday for a 63 and the official lead.
But Ramayah was brimming with confidence sinking putts of varying length consistently. He produced rounds of 66 and 68 and at 18-under was second in the world class field behind Couples.
But the TPC Dorado Beach championship course originally designed by Robert Trent Jones and remodelled by son Robert Trent Jones Jr became less of a pushover on Sunday.
Ramayah’s demise did not come as result of a wily course but by a mysterious incident.
“I was playing the 5th hole while Couples was coming up the fourth fairway by the side. I could see spectators taking a shortcut across the 5th to get to the fourth.
“This is a par-5 dogleg. I hit my drive and it went left then I lost sight of it as a group of spectators walked across. When I went there, there was no sign of the ball. Guna suggested that it could have hit a tree and gone into a lateral water hazard. But I wasn’t sure.
“The committee member came and said I couldn’t drop there and enquired my next move. I said I had to declare lost ball, take a two stroke penalty and go back to the tee.
“By then Fred had come to the tee and he was told what happened and he was scolding the officials how they could allow this to happen. I suspected that someone had picked up my ball. I ended up with an eight and also had a double-bogey after that.”
By the end of the day the damage was done. Ramayah could only muster a 74 which dropped him from second to sixth in the International Trophy event, while the team finished ninth which was still the best ever finish by Malaysia in the World Cup.
For Ramayah it was a phenomenal week, despite the hiccup carding a 16-under total, his lowest scoring record in an international competition.
Another proud moment for Ramayah was when he was picked to represent the nation yet again with Guna in the World Cup on home soil in 1999.
“We were in the same flight with Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara on the first day and it was fun matching putts with Tiger,” recounted the veteran pro. Malaysia ended up in a tie for 26th with Italy.
Like most Malaysian pros, Ramayah came from the caddy ranks at the Royal Selangor Golf Club. He lived in quarters nearby earning pocket money caddying for the members.
But at nine years his love for the game was growing fast.
“We are not allowed to play in the caddy championships until about 16 years old. So the youngsters like me waited until 7pm on weekdays for members to return home then we will play on several holes at the Sulaiman course until 10pm,” revealed Ramayah.
“Most of the time we will wait for the moonlight to come out. We will play Holes 1, 2 and 9. We had to make sure we weren’t seen by anyone. When I was 16 I didn’t win the caddy championships as others were better.
“When I was 12 I used to caddy for John O’Sullivan who was the resident pro then. I used to assist him, to tee the ball up for his students at the range. It was there I started to notice how he taught the members – how the ball flew. I remembered these things and tried it on my own.”
After winning the caddy championship in 1975, Ramayah decided to turn pro. It was a time when professional golf was still in its infancy with tournaments few and far between.
Still the young Ramayah was not deterred saving every sen he could so that he could travel to play in tournaments outstation or out of the country. He used to earn RM15 for a half hour lesson and coupled with donations from benevolent members, he began his historic journey.
“There were five or six members who collected money and to support my playing career. It was not easy as I missed the cut in my first Malaysian Open in 1975 then I took the train to Singapore to play the Singapore Open. I pawned my chain for RM400 but the expenses there came to RM300 and I also missed the cut,” he said.
Eventually he worked under Royal Perak Golf Club resident pro Bobby Lim, but in 1976 found himself in the curious situation contesting the Malaysian PGA championship with his employer!
“I was leading the tournament by seven shots into the final round at RSGC. However, by the time play reached the final hole I only had a one shot lead and talk was going around that my flightmates Zainal Abidin Yusof and Bobby would win.
“I hit my drive into the trees then the next shot into the bunker and was on the green in three. I had to two-putt to win. My first was short by five feet but I made good for par to win,” he recalled.
Then 21 he knew his career was only beginning and though he had little, or no sponsorship, had to soldier on using his own money to play in tournaments.
But Ramayah’s talent took him to countless victories on the home front and abroad. By the 90s he was a well-known player and was provided a five year sponsorship by PanWest to play golf.
“On the average, I was playing 35 tournaments but there were years from 1995-2000 I was playing 43 tournaments.
He was not one to fear losing or to venture to places strange to him. In 1981 he travelled to Scotland to try and qualify for the British Open. “It was a different kind of cold, very chilling and I couldn’t grip my clubs properly.”
Though well past his prime now, he still holds on to the not so idle boast, “I can still play at 75.”
No one doubts he could still conjure a pure shot out of nothing. The old master lives on.