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Golf champs - Rohana and Kumara deserve more incentives

by LAL GUNESEKERA

The 41st Pakistan Amateur Open Golf Championship worked off in Rawalpindi recently, was a historic occasion for two Sri Lankans. They were R.A. Anura Rohana and Lalith Kumara who emerged champion and runner-up respectively from a field of 53 top amateurs from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Qatar and Sri Lanka.

The 28-year-old Rohana had demonstrated real strength in driving and putting rather strongly, placing the ball in accordance with the contours of the hole. He had rounds of 70, 74, 73 and 71 on the par 70 Course for an aggregate of 288 striking 13 Birdies in the four rounds as well as an Eagle. He was six shots ahead of countryman Lalith Kumara (aggregate 294) who had rounds of 73, 73, 76, 72 with nine Birdies. In third place was a former Pakistan and Sri Lanka amateur champion Taimur Hassan - eight shots behind Anura Rohana with rounds of 47, 77, 72, 73.

Speaking to the 'Sunday Observer' soon after their arrival in the country, Rohana, said that he led from the first-round itself, while Lalith Kumara, was second after the first-round and was even with Pakistan's Zeeshan Ali (a former champion) in the third-round, but took over in the fourth to be runner-up. Sri Lanka also did well to win the team events. They won the Zia-ul-Haq Trophy by 17 shots from Pakistan as well as the President J.R. Jayewardene Trophy also over Pakistan by four shots.

For Anura Rohana this was a personal triumph. This was the first occasion he won the Pakistan title after six attempts - having being the runner-up in 1999 and 2001 too. Lalith Kumara has made four attempts at the Pakistan Amateur - he was third in 1999 and runner-up this year.

Anura Rohana is the sole bread winner of his family (married with two small children) who is attached to the Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC) as a Course Marshall and living in Narahenpita. He started his career as a ball boy when he was jsut seven years old and graduated into a 2nd Class Caddie in 1988 and even won the Sri Lanka Junior National Championship in 1991 and rose to be a No. 1 caddie.

He is always grateful to the Chitty's - Ajith and his son Zal (a former national rifle shooting champion of repute who later took to golf) who assisted Rohana a lot. Inf act, Zal, for whom Rohana was caddying, presented the youngster with his father's set of clubs. They (the Chitty's) even sponsored Rohana to play in the USA in 2000. Rohana was one of the four amateurs from san Diego, California who qualified to play at the 75th US Public Links Amateur Championships. He had the best scores from the entire USA in the qualifying rounds with rounds of 70 and 65 which was 9 under par on a par 72 course. It was quite a remarkable achievement for young Anura Rohana. Even Rusi Captain has helped Rohana by presenting him with a "Three wood" which costs about Rs. 20,000 as well as IBM's Sanjeeva Wickremanayake too has helped him in various ways.

Anura Rohana won the Sri Lanka Amateur Championships in 1999 at the Ridgeways of the RCGC - the first time that a Sri Lankan won the title after a lapse of eight years since Jessie Perera's triumph in 1991. Rohana had earlier lost to a Pakistani at the 1998 final in Nuwara Eliya and to Jessie Perera in the semi-finals in 1996 before striking it rich in 1999.

The year 1999 was a very successful one for Anura Rohana. He will never forget it. Playing off a scratch handicap, he won the Malaysian Open Amateur title in Kuala Lumpur as well as the Bangaldesh Open Amateur title in Dhaka. He finished fourth at the Singapore Open Amateur Championships, fourth at the Thailand Open Amateur Championships and fourth again at the Chinese Taipei Open Amateur Championships too.

Anura Rohana's first overseas exposure was in 1992 at the Pakistan Open Amateur Championships in Karachi where he was 17th, but two years later (1994) he graduated to fourth in Islamabad. Then in 2000, Rohana, was the runner-up at Lahore and also at the All-India Open Amateur Championships in Bombay. He won the Individual event at the SAARC Championships in India in 1999, but was runner-up in New Delhi in 2001. In May of the same year (2001), he was placed 16th out of 142 amateurs at the Malaysian Open Championships.

Rohana, holds the course record at the Victoria Golf Club in Digana in the Kandy District with a round of 67 inclusive of six birdies at the Kandy Open Championship. This was in March 2001. Earlier this year (2002), he regained the Bangaldesh Open Amateur Championship title in Dhaka, but failed to compete at the All-India Open Amateur Championships due to personal problems. But after finally having being successful in getting his elder son Uchitha Akash (6) into D.S. Senanayake College, Anura Rohana, returned to the Sri Lanka side to win the Pakistan Amateur Open title. He has another son, Udeesha Akalanka (1 year). His wife, Nilani Deepika gives him all the much needed support.

Lalith Kumara, on the other hand, is a bachelor and lives with his mother near the rail track near the RCGC on Model Farm Road. His five elder sisters are all married. He too is employed as a Course Marshall/Starter at the RCGC and first started playing golf in 1998. His first overseas exposure was in Singapore in 1999 in which year he was third at the Pakistan Amateur Open Championships. He won the All-India title in the same year (1999) and was fifth at the Bangladesh Open Amateur Championships earlier this year. Lalith has also played in Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and Thailand.

A former Minister of Sports, Youth affairs and Samurdhi, S.B. Dissanayake had presented both Anura Rohana and Lalith Kumara with Rs. 50,000 each for winning the Malaysian title in 1999 and the All-India title also in 1999 respectively.

These two young golfers are the best among the Sri Lankans and the Sri Lanka Golf Union (SLGU) must seriously consider giving Rohana and Kumara more incentives to perform better with the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games round the corner. Rohana himself is quite a disappointed person. Last year (2001), he was keen to turn professional and was looking for sponsors for a sum of at least Rs. 15 million which is needed to paly on the Pro Circuit - travel expenses, entry fees, caddie fees etc. Up to date he has had no "feed back", but he has not given up hope. He said: "One day soon, I hope that my dream will be fulfilled."

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