The swinger who charmed Malaysian golf

V Nellan stood out not just for his power play but also his attire that was a variation of American golfer Payne Stewart’s outlandish outfit. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: The saga of charismatic Malaysian golfer Nellan Vellasamy, who breathed his last yesterday at age 70, sounds almost far-fetched – fictional even.

“But it’s all true,” says sports commentator Bob Holmes who spent well over a year writing “The Legend”, a book on Nellan.

“Rags to riches? It was, if you count his experiences and playing and teaching the game he loved as the wealth he had accumulated,” said Bob.

Nellan once told Bob: “I feel like a billionaire!” In his case, unlike the wealthy, his was a culture of accumulating experience, being extremely competitive, motivating junior golfers and showcasing his true worth.

The wrap of his story on the cover of the 200-page book, co-authored by Bob and veteran journalist PC Shivadas, reads: “Nellan caddied for prime ministers and coached kings. He survived a plane crash and cancer and played for Malaysia in two World Cups.”

He was there among monarchs and the “royals” of politics, golf and show biz. Everybody loved him.

As a gregarious lad, he caddied for Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia’s second prime minister, and former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The cover of the book on V Nellan ‘The Legend’. The launch was shelved due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

As a top golfer noted for his stylish swings, he played with greats like Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, Australian Greg Norman, German Bernhard Langer and South African Gary Player.

As a coach, he shared a lesson with crooner Engelbert Humperdinck and inspired kids.

Bob describes him as one of Malaysian sport’s great characters, “the likes of whom we won’t see again”.

“Everybody loved him, and he will be sorely missed in several countries. He was a legend.”

Shivadas, the managing editor of Golf Malaysia, saw Nellan as a fighter – feisty, skilful, hilarious and loveable.

“He was an asset to local golf and as a teaching pro, he focused on the basics, no frills,” said Shivadas of his SS3 Kelana Jaya neighbourhood pal whom he had known for some 50 years.

Shivadas said Nellan was looking forward to the launch of his book which had been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Childhood buddy, World Cup partner and best friend Bobby Lim Yat Foong said he was devastated over Nellan’s passing.

“I can’t get over it. I’m trying to find my bearings. We were like brothers,” Bobby, a golf course designer, told FMT.

“Twins” Nellan and Bobby had a friendship that went back 60 years when they were students at Kuala Lumpur’s Pasar Road School (1) and Pasar Road School (2), respectively. Both were born in 1949. Nellan would have been 71 in September while Bobby celebrates his birthday in June.

Bobby said the highlight of their friendship was that “we never had a quarrel” while the highpoint of the playing days was when Malaysia finished 11th at the golf World Cup in the Philippines in 1977.

“As a pair, we had great moments beating some of the big names in Europe and America,” said Bobby.

Nellan is worth more than one book. There were so many defining characteristics especially when he was in his pomp.

He was never afraid to stand out and at times brought colour to the greens by wearing a variation of the late American golfer Payne Stewart’s outlandish outfit – plus-fours, patterned pants, high socks, and an ivy cap.

He was a game-changer. To come from where he did and do what he did was amazing.
Consider: He started caddying at age seven at the Royal Selangor Golf Club where his parents were ground maintenance workers.

He dropped out of school at 15 to play golf, and five years later, played in his first Malaysian Open in 1969.

He emerged onto the sport’s world stage in 1976 when he represented Malaysia with Zainal Abidin Yusof at the World Cup in Palm Springs, California, USA. The pair finished 32nd.

The following year, he partnered Bobby in the Philippines, forming a famous combination.
They placed a creditable 11th in the team standings with a four-round total of 610 strokes, 19 off the eventual winner Spain powered by Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido.

Bobby also finished 11th in the individual standings while Nellan was 20-something.

Their performance put Malaysia on the world golf map and spurred the sport locally. Local stars such as M Ramayah, Yusof brothers, Nazamudin and Sahabudin and Barie Bluah emerged.

Nellan last represented the nation in 2004 but remained active coaching and being resident pro at several clubs in Malaysia and Singapore.

Veteran sportswriter Tony Mariadass related the tenacity of Nellan to see action even as a major colon cancer surgery in 2006 left him in the cold. While recovering from his surgery, he told his son that he wanted to play in the Singapore Open.

Nellan told Tony he nearly killed himself completing the competition, adding “that’s how much I love golf”.

Speaking of a close shave with death, Nellan also survived the Dec 18, 1983 crash of MH684 from Singapore that landed 2km short of the Subang Airport runway. Nellan, his wife Letchimi, daughter Shanti Shanggari and a few golfers including Ramayah were returning from a tournament when the incident occurred during heavy rain.

The Airbus 300-B4 clipped some trees on its descent before the landing gear struck the ground. There were no fatalities, but the plane was severely damaged.

He rose gallantly after each difficult experience and as a pioneer touring professional who travelled the globe, he set an example for many of our professionals today.

Former Golf Digest Malaysia editor-in-chief Patrick Ho, who watched Nellan compete in professional senior events since 2000, said the golfer would talk passionately about teaching.

Said Patrick: “His philosophy as a teacher was to teach students to become their own best teacher. His teaching method was simple, not too technical and he once said, ‘the best way to teach golf is to keep it simple. There’s no point in making it too stressful for the student’.”

Malaysian golf has lost an inspiration, role-model, hero and friend.

Nellan leaves wife Letchimi Muniandy, sons Surendran and Tharvindren, daughter Shanti Shanggari, son-in-law Mogana Krishnan, daughters-in-law Chan Mee Cheng and Lai Siew Shing and three grandchildren to mourn his loss.

Due to Covid-19 movement restrictions, the funeral will be a family affair.

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