Shivnaren Srinivasan walks up a hillock at the pristine Bhatiary Golf & Country Club in Chittagong, Bangladesh, to get to the tee of the fifth hole. It’s the prettiest hole of the course with a view of the Chittagong Port. But on this hot summer afternoon, there’s barely a breeze, intense humidity, and 13 more holes to go for the day. Behind him is his father and caddie, Srinivasan Muttiah, 56, a lean man, with a cap that hides a head of white hair, pulling a large golf bag.

While it’s normal to see fathers or other family members double up as caddies for golfers at an amateur stage, it is not the case generally after the player turns pro. Muttiah and Shivnaren are the only father-son caddy-golfer team on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI). Shivnaren, 21, a rare left-hander, turned pro earlier this season.

“He started going to a golf course before getting admitted to a school," says Muttiah, a recreational golfer in his youth, who chose his job as the managing director of a logistics company in Chennai over his love for the sport.

“It started with my daughter, Anita," he says. “She was 6, and started accompanying me to the golf course, and very soon I had to get a US Kids Golf kit for her." That was 2002. His son didn’t wait that long. “Before I knew it, this boy was whacking balls with plastic clubs!" In 2002, the Kids Golf set may have been too large for Shivnaren, who is two years younger than Anita, but that didn’t stop the father from spotting his son’s talent.

And that took the two to the US in 2003, where Muttiah signed his son up for a US Kids Golf (USKG) event in Virginia. The USKG organizes events for boys and girls aged 5-12 throughout the year. “I was 6, and it was my first tournament," Shivnaren says. “I didn’t even know how things worked. So I shot the best score among the four of us in the group on the first day and believed I’d won the tournament. I thought I deserved a prize!" He was corrected by his father—there were 96 other children he had to compete with, and for two more rounds.

It was a start nevertheless. Over the next few years, Shivnaren honed his skills on the junior circuit, having played alongside Shubhankar Sharma, who is now a professional golfer. “We have been paired together in many tournaments, and been joint leaders several times," he says. “I certainly take a leaf out of his success story which inspires me tremendously." The road to turning pro was slightly longer for the Chennai lad, who made his amateur debut in 2015. But 2017 was his breakthrough year with second-place finishes at Tamil Nadu Amateur Open in Coimbatore and Northern India Amateur Open in Delhi.

Despite the success at the amateur level, to pick the sport as a career option never struck Shivnaren. “I never thought of doing this for a living, but this is what had me excited more than anything else," he says. “Golf has a lot of complexities and detailing and that’s what attracted me the most. I like physics and mechanics and found them dominating golf."

In January, Shivnaren turned pro after an impressive performance at the PGTI’s Qualifying School-Final Stage at the Kensville Golf and Country Club in Ahmedabad. When it came to picking a caddie, there was never going to be anyone else in contention barring his father. “It was natural," Muttiah says. “He didn’t have to tell me about it, or the other way round. I made it a conscious decision to caddie for him when he was a child because caddies, at least in Chennai, tend to fudge scores and make kids play in the perfect lie, rather than the actual one."

And in the first three tournaments he played (in Hyderbad, Chennai and Chittagong), Shivnaren made the halfway cut, which is a decent start, especially up against a mix of experienced and young golfers on the tour. “The game’s been good to me so far," he says. “I’ve had my fair share of success and have been able to integrate well into this little community I have." Shivnaren’s best finish so far has been the tournament in Chittagong where he finished 12th. Interestingly, he played his best round on the last day when his father couldn’t caddie for him. “I had a stiff back and needed rest," says Muttiah. “So he had to hire a local caddie, and played remarkably well in the back nine."

So doesn’t the task of walking around lugging his son’s 15kg golf bag for more than 4 hours every day not take a toll on his body? “Not at all. I love the environment at a tournament, and I just love watching my son play golf, that’s all," the beaming father says. “He belongs here, and that gives me joy. As for fitness, it’s a lifestyle." You can tell that by the former University of Madras cyclist’s lean frame for sure.

In Pune, Shivnaren’s fourth pro tournament, the youngster failed to make the cut in April. But in his father and coach, he also has a friend. “Sport is fickle and you got to accept that," he says. “We try and not dwell too much on my errors because that sets you back for the following day."

Golf had to take a back-seat for a bit for the player, who recently completed his final-year college exams. His comeback tournament after the break, the Louis Philippe Cup in Bengaluru (31 July-3 August).

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