Father and son are now crafting tomorrow's golf
By Mahangu Weerasinghe
They say that behind every budding athlete, there is a great coach. In that respect, Mithun Perera is very lucky. His coach and father are both rolled in one outstanding figure, an athlete who has dominated his respective sport for decades. Mithun Perera is the offspring of none other than Deshabandu Nandasena Perera, one of Sri Lanka's greatest golfing heroes.

The Sunday Times caught up with the father - son duo near the 13th hole of the Royal Colombo Golf Course. They had just finished their morning training session and were able to spare us a few minutes to tell us about their game.

Like most success stories, Nandasena's tale has its humble beginnings. "I used to practise my strokes with Welatta sticks I found around the golf course," said the Pro Golfer. Having started out as a mere ball boy at the RCGC, Nandasena gradually progressed to Caddy, after which he started playing golf on his own. "I worked very hard for many, many years to get to my peak," recalls the golfer.

Nandasena's success story began in 1981 when he won the Sri Lanka Open for the first time. The young golfer thereafter extended his winning streak over half a decade, winning the tournament for six consecutive years.

"I have also won the RCGC Open seven or eight times," said Nandasena, scratching his head. Success is something that Nandasena has experienced by the truckload. "I started playing professional golf in 1983, and played until 1986," explained the golfer. "However, in that year, Anu Punchihewa and Jhonny De Saram asked me to come and play amateur for Sri Lanka," he recalled.

After forfeiting taking part in tournaments due to golfing regulations that governed switch-overs of disciplines, Nandasena started playing Amateur golf in 1988. His first year saw him win both the Sri Lankan and Malaysian Amateur Championships. Thereafter he went on to dominate the Asian Amateur circuit, winning titles in Singapore, India, Malaysia and Sri Lankan over the next 12 years.

In 1990, Nandasena made his country proud by winning a Silver medal for Sri Lanka at the Asian Games in China. The next year, he drew close to his amateur career to embark a second time on the road to professional golf. "I won the Sabah Masters and the Roxman Masters titles in Malaysia that year," recalls the golfer. He also went on to be runner up at the Singapore and New Zealand PGA Championships during the same year.

Fresh from his successes in the rest of Asia, Nandasena decided to take on Japan. He applied for the Japanese licence, and qualified to play all 30-nine pro tour tournaments of the year. It was at this stage in his life however disaster struck. "I contracted rheumatic arthritis and spent a total of two and half years in hospital," remembers the golfing great. "I never fully recovered from my sickness," says Nandasena, showing his swollen fingers. "I could have gone a lot further, if my health prevailed."

This success story however, does not stop here. Nandasena Junior, or Mithun Perera as he is now known, first wielded a golf club as a toddler. "Because my father used to play, I used to hang around him as well," said Mithun. The youngster, who is a second year A/L student at President's College, Rajagiriya also plays cricket and football in school.

"I started playing serious golf only in 1997, at the age of 12," said Mithun. Since then, Mithun has won four Sri Lanka junior titles in two age categories. He also did well to come runner up in the Pakistan U-18 Junior Championship of 2003 and 4th in the All India Junior Championship of 2004. More importantly, he also did well to clinch the Club Championship title of 2004, putting him on the boards as one of the country's top young golfers.

Despite his winning streak, his father cum coach sees a lot of work ahead for the young lad. "He will have to work very hard for the next few years in order to reach a good standard," said Nandasena. "I see a long journey ahead for him, a journey that I hope will take him far beyond what I have achieved," said the proud father. "Sri Lanka golf now has a good place in Asian golfing, and it is the younger generation that will push this further," explained Nandasena.

The Head Coach of the RCGC, Nandasena is also in charge of crafting tomorrow's golfing greats. "It doesn't matter who the young golfer is, as long as he is willing to learn, I am willing to help." The coach however stresses that the right mindset is important for today's golfer. "There are too many athletes in this country today who have attitude problems - every player needs to be humble and willing to learn."

As for Mithun, he is now thinking hard about the future. "I have set him a target for the next few years," said Nandasena of his son. "It is up to him to make up his mind and achieve it."


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