The influence of Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum on the Sunshine Tour as we know it cannot be underestimated. The Durbanite with the unorthodox “reverse” grip was a leading player in South Africa and abroad in the 1950s and 60s and his desire to play golf without political interference is well documented.
Because of that philosophy, Papwa was honoured at the Vodacom Origins of Golf presented by Samsung at Zebula Country Club and it was fitting that his grandson, Nisharlan, was invited to play in the pro-am.
Nisharlan is the head professional at Windsor Park Golf Club in Durban and he credits his grandfather, whom he never met, with steering him on a career in golf.
“The unfortunate thing is I never got to meet him. Papwa passed on when my dad was eight. My dad tells me Papwa never influenced him to play. Because of the political situation at the time, Papwa never wanted my dad to get into golf. So because of the segregation in the sport, my dad only took up golf quite late in life,” said Nisharlan, who this year got his Big Easy Tour card and played in a tournament at Modderfontein before being sidelined by injury.
“I hear lots of stories about Papwa from my granny, who is still with us. She says Papwa’s focus was just on playing and he never concerned himself with government policies. My granny told me he was asked for a number of interviews and he always agreed to give them provided he didn’t have to talk politics … he just wanted to talk golf.
“For me and my career, the more I heard about him and the accolades he achieved, the more I wanted to play. I would like to have started at a younger age. I started at the age of 12 but only became serious about it when I went to the PGA golf school in Durban. My dad then encouraged me to give it a go.
“The playing part of it wasn’t really a focus at that time. I just wanted to get my PGA badge and go into teaching. But after hearing all the inspirational stories about Papwa, I decided I needed to give it a shot.
“I played a lot of IGT (International Golf Tour) events and had some nice finishes. Also, through the PGA we get invites to a lot of pro-ams and I was lucky enough to play at Pinnacle Point this year. In 2012 I played the Air Mauritius Pro-Am with the PGA and ended up coming fourth there.”
His grandfather’s demeanor has obviously rubbed off on Nisharlan, who believes a player’s approach to the game and mental fortitude are keys to being successful.
“With golf at the top level I feel it’s more about mental strength than the level of a player’s game. It takes one tournament to change a player’s mindset. You often see guys on the big tours that you’ve never heard of who suddenly get a win and are then consistently up there with the best,” he said.
“I’ve been working hard on the mental side of things. I’m fortunate in Durban to be in contact with guys from the Sharks (rugby team) and the Dolphins (cricket team). We play quite a bit of golf together and they help me on my mental approach and I help them with their golf.
“Having heard about how Papwa used to handle the media pressure helped me. If I’m at a tournament and teeing off on the first with lots of people watching me, I’m pretty comfortable. I actually perform better under those circumstances.
“When Papwa was inducted into the Southern African Golf Hall of Fame (in 2009), the ceremony was at Oubaai and I was lucky enough to play with Ernie Els. I watched the way he conducted himself. He would go around the course as if it was a casual day out and shoot the lights out. I think at times I actually tried too hard and I realised how important it was to go out and enjoy myself. When I do that I play better golf.”
His grandfather’s unorthodox grip has stayed in the family and Nisharlan’s father, who plays off a 1 handicap, has always used it. But the 30-year-old Durbanite says he was forced to abandon the grip once he started golf lessons.
“When I was young and starting out, the first time I held a club was like Papwa used to. My dad still plays like that. When I went for lessons, they took one look at me and told me I couldn’t play that way. In a way it worked out for me because as a teacher myself now, I think my students would look at me strangely if I had the reverse grip.”
Nisharlan is understandably proud of the recently-released book on his grandfather, entitled Papwa: Golf’s Lost Legend and written by Maxine Case.