M. Ramayah


Golf Digest (Malaysia) - - Contents 01/18 - BY ROGER RO­DRIGO

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.

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