CHENNAI: Ten minutes to tee off at the Chennai Open Golf Championship 2022 organised by the PGTI, N Thangaraja sits down for an exclusive chat.
“You know, I actually hated golf, I found it very boring,” Thangaraja says, his dimple deepening with the smile that breaks out on his face. “As a matter of fact, I started playing golf only when I turned 27. Yes, I am a late bloomer. You know, I actually felt I was not made for this sport, until I got very good at it,” he adds. “The one thing golf teaches you is to never quit, never to stop trying, so I kept going back to it,” says the 41-year-old Sri Lankan.
Finishing the Chennai Open at the second spot, after having been on top at the end of day three, Thangaraja is thankful for the trust and faith placed in him by his Lankan benefactor Shyam Perera. “She helped me stay focused on golf,” says the naturally gifted golfer.
As someone who always needs challenges to get his interest, people around him enticed him to play golf for a small amount of money. “You tell me there is a trophy at the end of the day, I will turn up, put my head down and play good golf,” he adds with a cheeky smile. “I revel in pressures,” he says, although he never shows any emotion on his face.
On Friday morning, he bogeys a hole, slips down from the top of the leaderboard, but when hailed by spectators, beams his 200-watt smile at them and walks on to the next hole. In fact, he was the darling of the local golfing fraternity during the four-day Open and on the final day, he had a sizeable crowd following him, cheering him, egging him and supporting him. “I do not feel any pressure, thanks to this ground support, I do not recall getting such support even in Sri Lanka,” he tells me as I walk with him after his tee shot.
Completely at home on the Cosmo TNGF course, Thangaraja, an avid movie buff, says he watched Viruman ahead of the Open. “Going to a theatre ahead of a tournament and watching a Tamil movie was a great way to unwind. I am a big fan of Suriya and Vikram. And I simply love Rajinikanth,” says the Colombo-born golfer who loves to gorge on dosas.
Married to Achini, who plays cricket and basketball, Thangaraja is saddened at the economic hardships the Lankans underwent recently. “I was in Dubai during that period, playing golf, but I heard it was very tough. Things are better now and in a couple of years, Lanka will be on a roll.”
For someone who hated golf, he has won four amateur nationals, two in Sri Lanka and one each in Pakistan and India. Having turned pro in 2013, Thangaraja has now set his sights on breaking into the PGA.