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The rise of a caddie

Zanzeer Singh
Saturday, January 13, 2018

AS a youngster Dinesh Chand used to hover around the Nadi Airport Golf Club course in New Town caddying for Japanese tourists at a rate of 75 cents per round back in the 1980s.

Fast forward 30 years later Chand now established himself not only as a good golfer but as an investor and a passionate developer of the game in Fiji.

Based in Japan, Chand, who is on holiday in the country, will host two tournaments in Nadi in the coming weeks to promote the sport.

At his peak, Chand was ranked 98 on the official world golf ranking and has a career earnings of about $6.5 million on the Japan Tour. Coming from a poor family Chand used to evade school just to go to caddy to earn a few cents.

"I remember that when I was eight years old I started going to the Nadi Airport Golf Club as a caddy," Chand said.

"I used to caddy for the Japanese tourists and at that time Japan Airlines used to fly to Fiji. I earned 75 cents for a round of golf and saw that I could earn money through golf.

"So halfway through primary school I quit studies just to go to the golf club to caddy.

"But my dad forced me to get back to school. He told me that study was more important than being a caddy.

"We were so poor living in a hut style house in Martintar and I had to bring money home somehow. The only option was to go to the golf club after school and caddy. I used to pick Vijay Singh's golf balls. He used to hit golf balls the whole day. There were no carts at that time.

"My dad was a taxidriver and it was hard to raise the family. My elder brother Rakesh and I had to work hard. We had to grind it out to support the family. I had a dream to live in a small house and have a family car."

Chand's fortunes changed when he became a junior member of the Nadi Airport Golf Club and met a couple of golfers who paved his pathway to Japan.

"I used to caddy for the general manager for Westpac Bank back then Ken Bailey," Chand said.

"He formed a juniors group. One day I caddied for a Qantas pilot and he told me to hit a shot but I said I can't because I was a caddy and if someone sees me I would be banned. But he told me that he would take care of it. He challenged me into driving the ball. He gave me a three wood and he took out his driver.

"He told me that if I out drove him then he would give me his set of clubs, shoes and gloves.

"I really hit past his drive and he stood by his word and gave me all the things. That's when I started concentrating on my golfing career. I won the first junior competition on debut at the Nadi Airport Golf Club course shooting 57 in nine holes.

"It was image golf for me at that time because I had not played in tournaments.

"It was all about learning. I won a set of forks and spoon. We used to eat food with our fingers and my mum was so happy that it opened my eyes just to play golf. I turned professional when I was 18 years old in Fiji. I met a gentleman at the Nadi Airport Golf Club and he asked me what my dream was and I told him to play professional golf. He was none other than Muni Mora, the owner of the famous Hamacho Restaurant at Martintar at that time.

"I regard him as my god. He opened the door for me and took me to Japan. It took me three years through Q-School to qualify for the Japan PGA Tour. I stayed in Tokyo and then moved to Nagano where they had the Winter Olympics in 1998.

"It was a big difference moving to Japan from Fiji. Being a kid growing up from nowhere it was a major obstacle. There were so many people, cars and trains. Things were totally different. The Japanese mostly eat a lot of raw food. In Fiji I was used to the curry, oil, sugar and salt stuff."

Chand earned his Japan Tour card in 1998 and went on to win the Descente Classic the same year.

"It was very hard at the beginning to adapt to the style," Chand said.

"But I never looked back and had the patience to carry myself through. I knew if I lost the opportunity then I would never get anything else. I really worked hard. I was 23 years old when I won my first tournament on the fourth start on the Japan Tour.

"I received about $300,000 on my first win. My dad told everyone that I had won $3 million here. I decided to build him a house and buy him a car. It bloomed after that. It was also a dream for him to drive a good car and live in a nice house.

"I did it for my parents and is a dream come true for a young kid to go to a different country to do it.

"I took a few boys to Japan to caddy for me. Just to show them what the golfing world is abroad.

"Rajiv Prasad and my younger brother Salesh are still there. Apenisa Koroicure is back in Fiji. Unfortunately they could not make it. I tried to open up doors for them.

"Now I'm trying to help the juniors in Fiji. I will be hosting a Pro-Am tournament next week. My aim is to get another Vijay Singh or Dinesh Chand out of Fiji. There are massive opportunities abroad. There are a lot of young kids picking up golf. I will try and get help. There are some good business people who are also willing to help to get another superstar golfer out of Fiji."

Chand won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup in 2001 and the Mandom Lucido Yomiuri Open in 2004.

Chand lost his card in 2009 after a drop in his performance but regained it in 2010 after excelling on the Japan Challenge Tour.

He represented the nation alongside former world number one Vijay Singh at the World Cup of Golf in 2001 (Japan) and 2002 (Mexico).

"The first time Vijay could not remember me that I caddied for him," Chand said.

"That's because we met after some 20 years. It took a little bit of time for him to remember those days I used to caddy for him.

"He was quite happy to see that someone had come from Fiji. But the sad story is that I don't know why Vijay has not shown interest in developing junior golf in Fiji. He has been our superstar and our hero. He is Fiji's golfing god. Hopefully he will try to do something for our junior golfers.

"We know that he has done a lot of marketing for the country. I'm trying my best to help develop the sport.

"There are not much tournaments for the professionals in the country so I'm putting up two events.

"I'm not playing full time on the Japan Tour now. I play on the secondary tour and a few on the regular tour. I'm 46 and have to work hard. I'm exempted on the Japan Senior Tour and money is quite big.

"Golf is getting big and the Fiji International has put the country on the golfing world. It is not only rugby now."

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