Life has turned around in a big way for Anil Bajrang Mane after he took up golf a few years ago but he still lives in the slums near the Bombay Presidency Golf Club.
As a little boy, despite the hard life, all that Bajrang Mane and his mother dreamed about was going to school and making it big in life.
But when his dad suffered an accident in a kerosene stove blast, the little boy was forced to work as a caddie in the BPGC.
“I had to make a choice: whether to go to school or whether to work and pay my dad’s hospital bills and feed the hungry ones at home. I chose to work as a caddie at the club, my dad had worked there too,” said the 32-year-old from Chembur in Mumbai the joint leader, with Delhi’s Rashid Khan, after the opening round of the PGTI Cochin Masters at the CIAL Golf Club.
“I had to stop studies midway through class 10.”
His life changed dramatically one day, a few years later, while working as a caddie for a friend on the course near his house.
“On the seventh hole, I asked him whether I could try a shot. He said, ‘go ahead’. I will never forget that shot in my life. I hit a 7-iron around 150 yards. That day I knew I could play golf,” said the young man who began as a ball picker at the club.
“I started afresh that day, working as a caddie in the morning and a little later, watching the others at play, learning all the time. I used to take down a lot of notes.”
Advice and encouragement from the club’s head pro Jagdish Angre and support from kind-hearted club members, fuelled his rise in the sport.
“In 2006, I beat the India No. 3 Gagan Verma,” he said, which gave a big boost and in 2009 December, Bajrang Mane turned a pro hoping that the money would help bring a better life for his wife and children.
“I’m still staying in the slums and there’s just a wall separating the BPGC’s 10th hole from my home. But within a month, I’ll get a new house. The Government has given a house to everybody near my place, it’s 278 sq feet in size,” said Bajrang Mane.Not easy
The money on the tour has made a big difference to him but life on the pro tour was not as easy as Bajrang Mane had hoped it would be — last year he made the cut in two of the seven tournaments he played in — but he was successful in the feeder tour in 2012, finishing runner-up.
And when life became a struggle, he received support from club members like Ashish Kachoria and Sanjay Poddar.
“They sponsored me for three years from 2010 to 2012,” he said.
Another club member, Ranjit Pandey has bankrolled him for three legs on the ongoing PGTI tour, last week’s Coimbatore event, for Kochi and the next tournament in Nepal.
He has had a promising start this year and at Bangalore’s Eagleton PGTI tournament in February, he produced a 7-under while finishing 16th.
Brought up the hard way, Bajrang Mane was a violent youngster a few years ago.
“Earlier, I was always fighting, I was like a goonda. Nobody would stand or sit in front of me. If anybody says anything bad about me, I would immediately bash him up,” he revealed.
“I would be frequently thrown out of the club for my violent behaviour. Once, I hit a fellow caddie and broke his nose, the club threw me out for six months.
“But after I took up golf and especially after my marriage, I have calmed down.”
His dream is to taste big success on the Indian tour and to go abroad and play big tournaments. That will offer a better life for his wife and four children.