The years spent at the Delhi Golf Club mean that the intricacies of this quaint course are imprinted on Manav Jaini's mind. The ability to recall at short notice also translates into a degree of comfort, a factor that allows the 27-year-old to call himself "big daddy". But after the pitched battle with Mithun Perera, Jaini would prefer to choose his words carefully.
The contest to take on top seed Ashok Kumar in the final of the SRF All-India Matchplay Championship had left both men drained. Cooling off in the clubhouse, Jaini, wiping the sweat off the broad forearms, watched quietly as the Sri Lankan scanned the newspapers for the previous day's coverage.
The mention of 'baccha (child)' (a term Perera has coined for himself), in one of the reports, evoked a chuckle from the 24-year-old and led him to repeat. The response was immediate. "Bacche, tumne baap ko hila ke rakh diya (child, you've shaken up daddy)," said Jaini and walked up to embrace Perera.
Cheered by a small but vociferous band of faithfuls, Jaini came within handshaking distance of losing face when he surrendered a comfortable cushion of 4 Up (after the 12th) to be forced into a playoff by the pocket-sized dynamo from Colombo.
After losing the opening hole, Jaini reeled out winner-after-winner to pick up the next four. A no-contest loomed large but Perera, battling the gusty conditions early on, clung on by winning the 7th. Putting the familiarity into use, Jaini dealt telling blows on the 8th (birdie) and 10th (eagle). The brief lull that ensued caused Jaini to slip. Losing the 13th, 15th, 16th and 18th meant the advantage lay with Perera as the two headed for the playoff. "The momentum was with him as he was making birdie at will," said Jaini.
After both missed eagle putts on the 19th, Jaini set up a 15-feet winning putt on the next, but paused briefly. "I told myself, 'you've read the line, just hole it'." The mind fell in line and relief enveloped the unshaven face.