KUALA LUMPUR: Nellan Vellasamy, who has died aged 71, was a legendary servant of the game, a golfer who rose from humble beginnings to play for his country, with a reputation as a colourful and witty character.
The eldest of 10 children to a general worker at The Royal Selangor Golf Club (RSGC), Nellan’s golfing journey began at seven when he started caddying there to earn pocket money for school.
The pull of the game was intense, and by 13, he had registered with the caddy club at RSGC, enabling him to play the hallowed grounds on Sunday afternoons.
By the time he dropped out of school two years later, Nellan knew that golf would be his life pursuit. From caddying for 55 cents a round for the prime ministerial likes of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Lee Kuan Yew, and Tun Abdul Razak to giving lessons to kings including the late Sultan Iskandar of Johor, he lived and breathed the game.
As a player, he travelled far and wide, playing on some of the world’s finest golf courses and rubbing shoulders with illustrious names such as Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Seve Ballesteros.
In 1976, he represented Malaysia with Zainal Abidin Yusof at the World Cup in Palm Springs, California, finishing in 32nd place. The following year, Nellan formed a powerful alliance with Bobby Lim at Manila’s renowned Wack Wack Golf & Country Club as they finished 11th in the team standings – the best result for Malaysia then.
The biggest win of his professional career came at the 1987 Malaysian PGA Championship when he defeated Thailand’s Sukree Onchum in a play-off at Kelab Golf Negara Subang.
Often calling himself the proverbial cat with nine lives, Nellan was very grateful for the fact that he walked away unscathed from the MAS Subang airport disaster of 1983 and later on, defeating colon cancer in 2007.
Surviving these two close shaves with death only reinforced his determination to spread the golf gospel – in recent years despite his advancing age, Nellan was still hopping from country to country, accepting invitations to share his knowledge and experience with the young and old.
Despite the influx of modern golf instruction and methodology, the old-school master with an eye for a good golf swing remained extremely popular, especially among members of Saujana Golf & Country Club – where he spent much of his days teaching and playing.
Nellan’s love affair with the Malaysian Open knew no bounds. He held dearly to the distinction of being at every single Malaysian Open since its inception. He was a scorekeeper in 1962, played his first Open in 1969, and his last in 1989. An ardent fan, Nellan would make the pilgrimage annually, including earlier this year at Kota Permai Golf & Country Club, when he joyously witnessed the championship’s resurrection after a four-year hiatus.
That would be my last encounter with this gregarious storyteller, always ready with a memorable quote or two up his sleeves to lighten anyone’s day.
Nellan is survived by his wife, three children, and a brood of loving grandchildren. Due to the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) in place, the funeral will be a private family affair.