Gunasagaran Periasamy: The unassuming legend

Gunasagaran Periasamy [1963-2017] ©Arep Kulal|PGM Tour

KUALA LUMPUR: The giant from Kuala Kubu Bharu, who rose from humble beginnings, caddying in his hometown golf club to nearly winning the Malaysian Open, is no longer amongst us.

Veteran professional Gunasagaran Periasamy passed away at 10:00am this morning due to multiple organ failure after suffering from a devastating stroke on Wednesday. He was 53.

Quiet and unassuming, Guna’s career was filled by many highs, even if he would forever be remembered for that faithful week in March 1994 when he came a whisker away from becoming the first local to lift the prestigious Seagram Trophy – handed out to the winner of the national Open.

Born into modest means, Guna’s golfing journey began as a schoolboy – he caddied for his pocket money at the Kuala Kubu Bharu Golf & Country Club. It would spark a love affair with the game that would endure throughout his lifetime.

A solid ball-striker, he would represent the country, going on to win a South East Asia (SEA) Games gold medal on home soil in 1989 before turning professional in 1992.

Hard working and armed with the steely self-belief to make it big, Guna’s moment in the sun came at the 1994 Benson & Hedges Malaysian Open at Royal Selangor Golf Club.

From the Royal Selangor Golf Club archives

The late Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah congratulating Gunasegaran at the 1994 Malaysian Open © RSGC Archive

Coming into the tournament in the shadows of his more illustrious uncle, the seasoned Ramayah Marimuthu, Guna was joint fourth after an opening round of 68. A sub-par 69 the following day moved him into the joint lead, a position he did not relinquish coming down the stretch at the venerable tract.

A crowd of hundreds became thousands as the young lad sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to join Frank Nobilo and Joakim Haeggman in a play-off that would go the distance.

With Nobilo dropping out after six holes, Guna and Haeggman went toe-to-toe until the eighth play-off hole – the par-five 15th. A couple of costly errors led to missed par putt from 12 feet, which put pay to his quest as Haeggman coolly two putted from inside eight feet for the title.

The cheers for Guna, even in defeat, were distinctly louder than those for the champion and  it remains a feat that no Malaysian golfer has come close to repeating till today.

Later that year, he would partner Ramayah to Malaysia’s best-ever finish in the World Cup of Golf, finishing ninth in Puerto Rico.

Success would follow on local shores with Guna winning 12 times on the now defunct Malaysian PGA Tour – including three Order of Merit titles in 1999, 2003 and 2006.

Years of hard graft on the golf course took a toll on his health. Guna struggled with diabetes and high blood pressure before he was diagnosed with a kidney ailment that he could ill-afford in the twillight years of his career.

Despite his deteriorating health, Guna was a regular winner on the Asian Senior Tour (AST) while posting consistent results against younger professionals on the domestic Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour.

In April 2016, his victory at the AST Players Championship in Batam, Indonesia earned him a rare invite to the Inspirity Invitational on the Champions Tour in Houston, Texas.

He finished a respectable 48th in a field that featured the whose who of senior golf – Ian Woosnam, Jay Haas, Tom Kite, Mark O’Meara, Curtis Strange, Colin Montgomerie and Sandy Lyle to name a few.

Gunasegaran final win came at the PGM Seniors’ Championship last November ©Arep Kulal|PGM Tour

In November 2016,  he would taste success for the first time on the PGM Tour, triumphing in the inaugural  Seniors’ Championship at Kota Seriemas Golf & Country Club by a whopping nine shots. It would be the final milestone in a legendary career, perhaps matched by few in Malaysia.

For much of his career, Guna shunned the media spotlight. He was a reserved character, a loner by nature and a man of few words. Many veterans in the media industry still laugh about the day when he turned up two hours late for sponsorship programme by the Malaysian Tobacco Company, the brandowners of Benson & Hedges in the aftermath of his 1994 Malaysian Open heroics.

It was classic Guna – a proud, self-made man who was perhaps a tad conscious about what others thought about him. He had little time for nostalgia – the 1994 Malaysian Open was just “another tournament he didn’t win” – even if it’s a moment that has stood the test of time.

He was, after all, the consummate professional, playing the game which had lifted him from the obscurity of a small town to becoming a nation’s hero. All while keeping his head down and getting on with business.

Guna is survived by his wife and four children.