Caddie-pro: A vanishing breed
Golf isn't shedding its elitist tag anymore. If records of the past few years for juniors are taken seriously, then the number of quality caddie-turned-professionals is on a decline.
Beginning from th 1996-97 junior season, few have made it to the top. Ashok Kumar, who turned pro in 2002 and Harinder Gupta, are the only two notable caddie-turned pros from the recent bunch of juniors.
The third, Suleman Ali, is also there, but way down the list.
For years, the Indian Golf Tour's annual money list has had caddies among the top grossers. This may soon become a thing of the past.
"The players are okay but the sport has become more expensive. The lack of financial assistance is probably the major reason for the decline," says Ashok Kumar, who heads this season's money list.
Ashok, along with Suleman, is among the few caddies who held top spots in the junior merit list.
In fact, in the recent past, some caddies have moved away from golf through sheer desperation. Lakhan Singh (who stood fifth in '97-'98, 11th in '98-'99 (sub-junior merit lists) and 14th in the '01-02 junior list) preferred a more secure source of income.
The sub-junior merit list of 2001-02 and the next season, hardly had any caddie.
That list is the junior list now, and they are the ones who will be our golfers in the immediate future.
"For most of them, it's hand-to-mouth," says Ashok. He cites this also as a reason for few players going abroad and playing in Asian tour. He himself is planning to go to China to play and points out the difficulty in getting a sponsor.
A classic example is that of Ali Sher, twice Indian Open winner.
Ever after winning two Indian Opens, he's says it's been very difficult finding a sponsor for events abroad.
"You have to finance yourself," he says. "Suppose you don't win, you stand to lose all you've invested.”
“After a point, people judge you and your clan (read caddie-turned-pros) by what you've done at international level. But playing outside is expensive and risky." People like Ali and now Ashok feel it was luck more than anything else that brought them glory. "We just played out of passion, often using club facilities in hiding.
Now, with so many wannabes, it's difficult for individuals to come out and support us. The competition is not even," adds Ashok. Incidentally, it's only the junior-most list of this season, the C and D divisions --- players between 8 to 12 --- that has some caddie boys doing well. And the caddie-clan is going all out to help them.