FEATURE: Remember the Papwa - SA’s first non-white champion golfer
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JOHANNESBURG – As a new Dutch Open champion was crowned on Sunday with Kristoffer Broberg of Sweden collecting his first win in six years, it’s worth remembering one of the greatest champions in the European Tour event’s history – the lesser-known South African Sewsunker ‘Papwa’ Sewgolum.
Born in 1928, Sewgolum, a South African of Indian descent and considered non-white during Apartheid, won the Dutch Open in 1959, 1960 and 1964. A former caddie, with immense natural talent and a wholly unorthodox grip – Sewgolum’s short period of success belied his ability which saw him beat some of the biggest names in the sport.
In probably one of the most well-known moments of his career, Sewgolum beat SA’s greatest-ever golfer Gary Player in the Natal Open in 1965. The remarkable, or ridiculous, thing about that victory was receiving his trophy outside the Durban Country Club clubhouse in the pouring rain – as non-whites were prohibited from entering the building.
He also went on to finish 13th in The Open Championship – the oldest tournament in golf – in 1963.
Sewgolum’s success embarrassed the Apartheid government which saw him later banned from playing golf or even entering a course as a spectator. He died in poverty at the age of 49 in 1978.
In his book published last year, Out of the Rough, Papwa, A Player denied by Selvan Naidoo reveals some of the hardships Sewgolum had to endure and how he managed to claim that breakthrough win at the Dutch Open.
“In 1959, a caddie turned golfer made his first plane trip to play professional tournament golf on the European tour,” writes Naidoo.
“Showing no signs of nerves, Papwa led the first round with a brilliant opening round of 67. His second round was a fine example of skill and dexterity, that saw him carding a 69, leading the tournament with three stokes up on Gerard de Wit, the Dutch Champion.
“Papwa Sewgolum astonishingly won the Dutch Open golf tournament in his first attempt as a professional golfer. Papwa stunned the partisan Dutch crowd on the final round edging out Dutch champion Gerard de Wit in a tense final round winning the Dutch Open of 1959 by a single stroke. With scores of 67-69-74 and 73 (283), Papwa Sewgolum became the first player of colour to win a European Tournament.”
Sewgolum was 31 when he won the Dutch Open for the first time, an already advanced age to be winning for the first time.
Naidoo writes that “Papwa’s Dutch Open win was remarkable and Black South Africans, especially in Papwa’s home city of Durban, were overjoyed by his success. Golf journalist Philip Galgut wrote in The Compleat Golfer: ‘Willy nilly, and virtually overnight, Papwa had become a symbol of liberation to an increasingly beleaguered people.’
Black commentators noted the wider political significance of Papwa’s victory. According to an editorial in The Leader newspaper: With the success of Papwa in international golf, the Colour Bar in sport has received another severe jolt. Papwa’s success in the “home country” of the original Voortrekker, the birthplace of Dr Verwoerd, makes the embarrassment even more unbearable for the apostles of apartheid.
Though Apartheid would still last over 30 years after Sewgolum’s victory, it did not lessen the significance of that victory – and as Naidoo explains – it was a triumph that transcended sport.
“The tournament win at the Koninklijke Haagsche Golf in the Netherlands was to become Papwa’s crowning glory.
“Papwa Sewsunker Sewgolum’s Dutch Open victory by all accounts, was no ordinary golfing triumph. Papwa’s triumph symbolised more than just winning a golf tournament. His moment of glory on the 20th July 1959 at the Dutch Open was not his alone, it was a peoples’ triumph over adversity and untold oppression.”
African News Agency (ANA)