Opportunity keeps knocking on his door

V Nellan, 1 of the country’s oldest golf pros, is harvesting the benefits of his no-frills teaching methods, especially in coach-starved India

by SHIV DAS

It’s India where I found V Nellan these days and he’s just returned from his latest foray — a three-week, all-expenses paid coaching mission that took him to Bengaluru for nine days, Mysore, five, and the rest in New Delhi.

Inter-city travel was by train and air. Within was by car with a driver, since he didn’t have a clue as to where and how to go. For convenience, he was put up in a guest room at golf clubs, if that was available. If not, it was a house with a cook and driver at his disposal.

Well-heeled businessmen provided his comforts.

In return, all they sought were his no-frills sessions with just the fundamentals. Not for him, position and angle of body at stance, grip, position of hands in relation to the body, hip rotation and correct wrist-cock on the upswing, knees flexed and the in-out arc on the downswing, head down and finishing it at the shoulder with grip still intact.

“All that is too much,” he says. “After all, the first thing is grip and that is determined by hand size and the way one tends to hold anything. Then it’s stance, just be nice and comfortable, not too wide or narrow. Good footwork is next, shifting weight to the right foot on the backswing and the left on the downswing.

“The wrist-cock or hinging is something that happens at the top of the swing, as if one is throwing something. If I see it happening naturally, I don’t have to teach it.”

For him, none of the fundamentals have changed, but technology has. Good old-fashioned training, minus gadgets and without too many details to be mindful of, is the crux of his teaching style.

The way he sees it, it’s all “muscle memory, not habit”. It’s typically Nellan when he says: “If you have to have a peg of whiskey every time you tee-off, that’s a habit.”

His simple, yet effective teaching style is finding ready acceptance, especially in golf coach-starved India. As the country develops and people move above the poverty line, the fire of interest in the game is being lit.

Some Indian players — the more recent ones such as Shubhankar Sharma, who won the Maybank Championship last year and is playing not just the Asian, but the European and PGA Tours too — are sparking interest in the game more and more.

Relocating to India is a gung-ho idea Nellan is flirting with, but in his heart of hearts, he knows that’s just what it is, flirting — given there’s no place like home and two grandchildren he has from a son and daughter to take his mind off golf.

He’s hosted up-and-coming Indian pro Wasim Khan here two years ago for a brief coaching stint courtesy of an Indian sponsor and, in the last couple of years, quite a few youngsters from the subcontinent have spent time with him at the Saujana Golf and Country Club (SGCC) where he’s based as the club’s golf ambassador.

Three earlier trips to India seem to have cemented his reputation there.

This twice Malaysian World Cupper — now aged 69 going on 70 — says active playing days saw him winning the Royal Selangor Golf Club’s Caddy Championship back-to-back in 1967 and 1968. His best showing in the Malaysian Open was in 1974, when it was played at the Royal Perak Golf Club.

Right now, he’s having the best time of his life…as a coach. He admits to feeling the strain at times, but the energy returns quickly when he’s into his sessions and the trainees show elation when making almost immediate progress.

Soon after his return from India, he played host to 11 Indian businessmen on a four-day golfing binge in Kuala Lumpur (KL). They played at SGCC, the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club and TPC KL. He had gotten to know some of them in his recent trip to India.

He was off to Chengmai next to take part in a farewell game with the regional boss of insurance company Tokio Marine Holdings Inc, who he had befriended and who was retiring.

Four days there and he is scheduled to go to Lahad Datu and Sandakan in Sabah, for eight days in all — and not for the first time. He’s been a hit there and in the neighbouring state of Sarawak as well.

People wanting and willing to learn the game is his driving force. “When they come to me with enthusiasm and they start hitting well — and knowing I have been part of it, inspires me.”

There were 10 years in his life when life didn’t seem at all rosy. Colon surgery had him eking out a living with golfing lessons few and far between. But he has since realised that marketing himself is the key to success.

There’s a possibility of him going to Algeria next, a business contact now working on that prospect.

Given all he has achieved so far, it’s mission accomplished, with new horizons opening up. Surely, a case of he who seeks shall find.