In a country dominated by cricket and football fandom, golf has to often take the backstage. But it was golf that ensured Bangladesh's first-ever direct Olympics qualification. Or to be precise, Siddikur Rahman.
Siddiq's story is no short of a miracle. He had to struggle for three square meals a day once upon a time, and now he leads a life of comfort courtesy of golf. Once a ball boy who couldn't understand a word in English, he now speaks it fluently.
The Business Standard reached out to Siddiq and talked to him about his early struggles and how he became Bangladesh's icon in golf.
TBS: How's life been over the past few months?
Siddikur: There's nothing to do now other than staying home. I've been trying to maintain my fitness as much as possible.
TBS: Is fitness as important to a golfer as it is for cricketers and footballers?
Siddikur: Not really. But you need to be in the best possible shape if you want to crack the highest level. Golf is more of a mental game than physical.
TBS: You are supposed to participate in two tournaments in Japan and Korea. But as of now, you can't do that because of the travel ban. If the situation doesn't change, you might miss the tournaments...
Siddikur: There's no problem with the Visa. If the ban on travel is lifted, then I can go and participate. The tournament itself may get canceled because of the pandemic. But as per schedule, it's still on and I am not sure whether I can participate or not.
TBS: How did you get into golf?
Siddikur: I got into golf in search of work. I hail from a very humble background. I worked as a ball boy. I used to play golf too, when I got time.
In 1999, I got an opportunity. A competition was arranged in order to select golfers for the national team where junior players participated. Luckily, I qualified. That's when I decided to take the sport as a profession.
Then when I became the champion in the 2001 amateur open in Bangladesh, my belief and ambition changed altogether.
TBS: How did it feel to become a golfer from a ball boy?
Siddikur: It was a very exciting moment. I didn't have any equipment when I played the qualifying round. I had to borrow a golf set to participate. When I qualified, I was provided with a golf set. It was a very joyous occasion.
TBS: What were the challenges you faced as a golfer in your early days?
Siddikur: Name a challenge that I didn't have to face. Obviously financial hardship comes first. I am not an educated person. I am not sure if people know that. It was a challenge travelling abroad. Initially, I had no idea how to find hotels and book them. India is a neighbour country, so it was relatively easier there. But when I qualified for the Asian tour in 2008, I had to go to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia where things were tough. To get acquainted with a particular country's rules and regulations, arrange the Visa- these things were extremely challenging for me.
TBS: You've just said that you're not educated. But now you speak English fluently. How did you do that?
Siddikur: It was one of my dreams to speak English as I always failed in this subject as a kid. When I used to work at the golf club, I watched the foreigners speaking English fluently. I couldn't understand a single word. Afterwards, I became a golfer, mixed with people, listened carefully to what they said. I learned words and tried to make sentences, follow the grammar. Thus, I mastered it gradually.
TBS: How much did you actually study?
Siddikur: I passed SSC in 2000, after qualifying for the national team. After that, I couldn't continue my studies.
TBS: Tell us about your first tournament as a professional golfer.
Siddikur: It was in India. I had to get through a qualifying round to participate in that tournament. I was ranked 14th among 200-300 golfers. It was a great experience to qualify for the Indian tour.
TBS: Pick the most satisfying victory of your career.
Siddikur: If I count both amateur and professional, I will pick the 2001 amateur open in Bangladesh and 2010 Brunei open.
Brunei open was a do or die tournament for me. I was in such a crisis in 2010 that I thought I wouldn't persist with golf anymore. Then I became champion in the Brunei open. I got USD54,000 (Tk46 lakh) as prize money which was a huge amount. Since then, there has been no looking back.
TBS: What's the greatest achievement of your career?
Siddikur: Participating in the Olympic games is definitely the greatest achievement. I became part of history because no one before me from Bangladesh participated in the Olympics directly. It was a proud moment to represent Bangladesh in the greatest show on earth.
TBS: You participated in the Golf World Cup as well..
Siddikur: Golf World Cup is not that big of a tournament like cricket and football. It takes place every two years. Only 60 golfers participate there. I participated in four PGA tours directly from the merit list and my results were good as well.
TBS: In which tournament did you win the highest amount of prize money?
Siddikur: I won USD2,25,000 from Hero India. But I have to spend a lot. I have to spend about Tk10 million every year.
TBS: How much have you earned as prize money so far?
Siddikur: I have won a lot. But I have spent 80% of it. My German coach charges Tk50,000 per day. So, I have to spend Tk3,00,0000 if I am coached for two months. But I don't have any sponsor. As I said, I have to spend ৳10 million every year. I have to spend that if I have a sponsor or not. But I won't be sad if I don't have any money left at the end of the year. Because I visit 30 countries in a year. To get acquainted with 30 different cultures is a priceless experience.
TBS: Is there any golfer whom you couldn't believe you were watching with your own eyes?
Siddikur: Tiger Woods. Before that, I had watched him on TV. I met and spoke to him during the 2013 PGA tour. I couldn't believe my eyes that I was watching the great Tiger Woods.
TBS: What are the tournaments you dream of winning?
Siddikur: I want to win one of the five major trophies of the PGA tour.
TBS: What's the future of golf in Bangladesh?
Siddikur: I think there's a good future. We Bangladeshis can work hard. If facilities are enhanced keeping in mind the future, then I think quality golfers will come through. Consistency is very important in this regard.
TBS: What's the most miserable period in your life and why?
Siddikur: We had a big family of six members. My father didn't do anything specific. He was a day labourer. So it was a challenge to enjoy three square meals. Definitely this was the most miserable period in my life.
TBS: Do you have any plan to do something regarding golf in Bangladesh?
Siddikur: It would be great to do something. I cannot do anything alone. Rather, if I can bring Bangladesh more glory in future, it would definitely encourage the next generation.