Mithun Perera hates golf. He is passionate about gathering stamps. He proudly boasts of having collected roughly 50,000 stamps from all over the world by visiting post offices of every city he travels to for tournaments.
He has also stamped his class in the sport inspite of his dislike for it.
“I hate golf,” the short and stocky Sri Lankan adds, rather unconvincingly. “I play just to earn my living. I love football. I used to play a lot. By playing golf, I have become like a football.”
For someone with such loathing for the sport, Perera has been taking giant strides and almost single-handedly brought Sri Lanka on the map of pro golf.
He did that again on Thursday, when he equalled the course record at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club, outclassing some of the top Indian pros in the process. His score of 8-under 62 in Round Two of the Louis Philippe Cup, an IPL-style competition, helped his team Navratna Ahmedabad leapfrog to the top of the table in the eight-team tournament.
Sri Lankan golfers have been making waves on the Indian tour of late. Two of them feature in the top five of the Order of Merit and Perera, second on the table behind Anirban Lahiri, has been leading the charge. But the journey hasn’t been a smooth one. Because the country was embroiled in ethnic strife, there was hardly any time for sport. Golf in particular.
Impact of civil war
Perera was 11 when the sport felt the biggest impact of LTTE’s activities. “I was very young and can’t recall the tournament’s name. In 1997, Sri Lanka was to host its first professional tournament; equivalent to the Avantha Masters in India,” he says. “But on the eve of the tournament, the city (Colombo) was rocked by bomb blasts. The tournament was cancelled and the sponsors, who had invested a lot of money, never returned.”
After that incident, sponsors were hard to come by and professional golf never really became popular. “We did not have proper roads, how could we dream of having golf courses? Sponsors too stayed away from the sport, it was too big a financial risk,” Perera says.
Sri Lanka has only three golf courses, — in Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. The players are amateurs and since golf clubs are not affordable, most have learnt the art by using makeshift equipment made of palm tree branches.
In such circumstances, the 27-year-old has been fighting an uphill battle and following the footsteps of his father, Nandasena, who is considered to be among the all-time greats in his country.
He depended on donations from individual golf enthusiasts and started competing on the Indian tour. He became the first Sri Lankan to have multiple wins on the continued…