Grace on arrival at BIA with Sri Lanka Golf officials - (L-R) Chandana Weerasinghe, Sugath Getawakanda and Niloo Jayatilleke
Grace on arrival at BIA with Sri Lanka Golf officials - (L-R) Chandana Weerasinghe, Sugath Getawakanda and Niloo Jayatilleke

Amazing Grace – no, here I am not referring to the much loved and revered hymn but to a truly amazing young girl, Grace Catherine Yatawara (21), who recently brought glory to Sri Lanka by winning two gold medals at the recently concluded South Asian Federation Games (SAF), in Kathmandu recently. She won golds in the individual golf competition and the golf team event with scores of 69-76-74-77. Her score of 69 was the women’s course record for Gokarna Forest Golf Resort. Her fellow golfers in the winning team were Taniya Balasuriya and Thuhashini Selvaratnam.

This victory has been the highpoint of this young woman’s golfing career so far, and she says “Winning the gold, and standing on the podium with the Sri Lankan National Anthem playing and my family witnessing it, makes this the most memorable golf event in my life”.

What also makes Grace’s success even more spectacular is that the South Asian Games was her first international tournament and playing in a cold climate at high altitude and on a strange course was very challenging. But ‘Amazing Grace’ rose to the occasion and from the very first tee set the pace and kept the lead.

The 2019 South Asian Games, was the first time she had represented her father’s motherland and her second home, Sri Lanka. And she certainly did Sri Lanka proud. “It was such a special experience to have had the opportunity to internationally represent a country which is like a second home to me. I know it meant so much to my dad to see me on the podium holding the Sri Lankan flag with the Sri Lanka National Anthem playing (Grace’s father is Chanaka Yatawara, Sri Lankan, and mother Gayle, American. Grace and her elder sister Lily are dual citizens).

However, the glory of victory was tinged with sadness and nostalgia too. “Although this was an amazing time it was a little bittersweet knowing that my grandfather, Jayampathi Yatawara, who passed away a few years ago, wasn’t able to see it. In Sri Lanka, he was a stellar athlete and he always told my sister and me while growing up, that the only way to get better at our sport was to practice, practice, and practice.”

A humble but ecstatic Grace says that she is very grateful for having been given the opportunity to make Sri Lanka proud. We are proud of you too.

The selection process for the South Asian Games was exacting. The scores of the local qualifications with national squad members Grace played in as well as her American scores were taken into consideration by the Selection Committee in Sri Lanka, appointed by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Sports.

Just a couple of days before she left with the team for Kathmandu, Youth Observer met her at Royal Colombo Golf Club premises. The meeting was kindly arranged for us by Chandana Weerasinghe (member, junior subcommittee under Sri Lanka Golf, Junior Golf Development in Sri Lanka).

An attractive, fresh faced lady with an engaging smile she was very much at ease as we chatted. A major topic of conversation was the upcoming South Asian Games. Though admitting to being a tad nervous, she was well geared up to meeting the unknown challenge and raring to get to Kathmandu.

Grace Catherine Yatawara, born and bred in Salisbury, North Carolina, USA, has strong ties to Sri Lanka especially as her ‘Attha’, (the late Jayampathi Yatawara) and ‘Athhi’ Esme are from Sri Lanka and both of them have wielded a tremendous influence on Grace’s and sister Lily’s lives. She also has many relatives and friends here and therefore, it is no surprise that she visits Sri Lanka often and looks upon it as her second home.

It was father Chanaka , himself a golf player who initiated Lily and Grace into the intricacies of golf.So, it can be truly said that the girls have inherited golfing genes from their father. Around ten years of age Grace started playing in small tournaments ,and by the age of twelve, she was playing serious golf and it had become her passion.

Under the guidance of her long term coach Robert Linville she averages twenty five hours of golf per week.Other than the South Asian Games, Grace Yatawara has many wins to her credit and has participated in many tournaments in the USA, Sri Lanka, Puerto Rico and several other countries.

Her victories include the North Carolina High School Athletic association (NCHSAA) Individual State Champion 2015 and 2014, Team State Champion 2013, 2014 and 2015, Regional Player of the Year and the County Player of the Year. She also bagged the North Carolina Junior Championship in 2014 and qualified for the US Junior Golf Championship the same year. Her golfing prowess won her a full athletic scholarship to East Carolina University, which is ranked 71 nationally in the USA as a university.

‘Amazing Grace’, apart from golf, lives up to her name in academic studies as well. Currently, she has just finished her final exams for a degree, majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a 3.935 GPA score. She has been inducted into the National Engineering Honour Society (Tau Beta Phi). In her choice of a career, she is following in her father Chanaka’s and grandfather Jayampathi’s footsteps for they too are mechanical engineers.

She had her primary education at Salisbury Academy and secondary education at Salisbury High School where she became Salutatorian in both her middle and high school classes.

She also participated in several other sports, basketball, volleyball and tennis but gave them up to devote herself to her passion, golf.

When we met in Colombo I asked her how she managed to juggle studies and an intensive golf program. “Time management. I am good at it. With my kind of schedule I need to balance time so I have mastered time management”.

To the question what has golf brought you in life? She replied it has given me a strong work ethic. “I have had to learn to be on my own on the course for hours, working through the successes and failures of the game. There are no referees in golf, which has therefore taught me integrity and respect for the game and my playing opponents when calling penalties on myself during tournaments”.

When in Sri Lanka Grace spends as much time as possible playing golf. She also goes for meditation classes under Gitan Rajapakse. Since she started meditation two years ago, it has shaped her outlook on life asserts Grace. Although he lives in Sri Lanka while also in the USA, she is able to attend classes via Skype weekly. “It has helped me to recognise my emotions and control any frustrations, I feel”.

Grace’s role model in life is her sister Lily. “She really got me started and pushes me to do better and better not only in golf, but in everything that I do” says Grace. She is also grateful for her father Chanaka , Mother Gayle and Grandmother Esme Yatawara in Colombo, Coach Robert Linville and each and every one who has helped her and supported her in her golfing career.

She would like to thank coaches Pradeep Kumara, Nishan Navaratne, Kanapathi Kumar and Duleeka Pathirana who travelled with the team to Nepal for all their support. According to Grace,Nishan along with Duminda de Zoysa and Pradeep Kumara were integral parts of the group that helped her get on the team. They also helped with the communication between her and the local Golf Union.

When Grace does find time to relax she likes to chill out with friends. She also reads a lot and enjoys fun times with her dogs Elsa and Teddy. A country music buff she digs the music of Thomas Rhett and Brett Young, among others.

Grace’s current ambition is to finish her university degree in mechanical engineering, in May 2020, and continue a competitive golf career as an amateur golfer.

Good luck Amazing Grace! May you stroke to success each time you grace a competition!