FOR more than two decades, M. Ramayah has been a household name in Malaysian golf right until the late 90s.
It was hard work. And some amazing luck.
Ramayah didn’t just have to practise hard to stay as the country’s No. 1 golfer – he had to stay alive.
The 65-year-old not only holds the distinction for representing Malaysia at the World Cup for a record 13 times – he also cheated death three times!
He survived an air crash, a car crash and came close to being shot dead, in just the 10 years between 1983 and 1993.
Ramayah’s first lucky escape came when he was 28.
He was travelling back from Changi Airport in Singapore after the Maruman Golf Classic when the MH684 – with Ramayah and 246 other passengers and crew – fell two kilometres short of the Subang International Airport and crashed into a swamp on Dec 18,1983.
Surprisingly, all on board managed to evacuate before the fire destroyed it.
“I was flying back with fellow golfers including M. Selarus and V. Nellan, who was with his wife and children. We were all very lucky to get out of the plane in time, ” recalled Ramayah at the TPC Kuala Lumpur where he works as a golf instructor.
“Both wings were on fire shortly after it landed. I could feel the heat as we were about to exit with the evacuation slide. Some were panicking and jumped into the swamp even before slide was deployed.
“The cabin crew did a great job and executed the evacuation plan calmly. While we were heading towards the airport, I turned back and saw the plane burst into flames. It was a very scary experience. I took me many, many years to shake off the phobia. I would try not to fly unless it was really necessary.”
Six years later, came the car crash in Ipoh.
He was driving home after dinner when he hit the divider and the car turned turtle. His Nissan Sentra was damaged beyond repair, but he survived the horrific crash with cuts on his head.
“The last thing I remember before passing out was someone helping me get out from the car. When I opened my eyes, I was already in the hospital, ” he said.
“It was another near escape. How many times will I get lucky, I asked myself.”
The answer was: at least once more. Lady luck smiled on him again in 1993. Ramayah could have been unintentionally shot dead by an acquaintance, who thought the gun he was toying with was unloaded.
“I was in Kelantan for a local tournament, and I joined my fellow golfers to cross the border into Thailand for shopping and dinner one evening, ” he recounted.
“One of them was a good friend of a Thai policeman and I have no idea why he decided to borrow the gun, a revolver, from the policemen and fool around with it.
“I was in the midst of a conversation when the friend interrupted and said ‘hey Ramayah’. As I turned to him, I saw him firing a shot at me. I was so lucky the shot went off target and hit the wall behind me instead. Everyone was dumbfounded.
“The golfer apologised, explaining that he thought he had unloaded the bullets. That was pure madness! God saved me again, and thankfully, nothing bad, at least not at that magnitude, happened to me since.”
That near-miss had him shaken, but Ramayah was not about to miss his glory. He went on to claim the title that week to add to his countless local victories. He dominated the No. 1 position in the MPGA Order of Merit from 1976 to 1997.
Like many players of his era, Ramayah started out as a caddie before turning a player at 14. By the time he reached 18, he turned professional.
Just a year later, he stunned an array of established players, including then golf stars Bobby Lim and Zainal Abidin Yusof, to clinch the Malaysian PGA championship.
There was no turning back for Ramayah and he made his World Cup debut in Athens in 1979, teaming up with Nazamuddin Yusoff and they finished 13th. He was also placed 13th in the individual category – so 13 is certainly not an unlucky number for him.
His best effort in the World Cup came in 1994 at Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico. Joining forces with the late P. Gunasegaran, he went into the final round in third place but faltered for Malaysia to finish ninth – a feat that has yet to be surpassed.
One of the most memorable World Cups was surely when he got a chance to play alongside Tiger Woods in the same flight when Malaysia hosted the 1999 edition.
Tiger and fellow American partner Mark O’Meara ran away with a five-shot victory over Spain at the Mines Golf and Country Club.
And Ramayah remembers vividly how Woods was irked by the inconsiderate fans, who failed to put their phone in silent mode.
“He was the world No. 1. So, it came as no surprise that thousands of fans flocked to the course just to watch him, ” said Ramayah.
“At one point, I was playing well and was ahead of Tiger until he birdied the last few holes while I dropped strokes.
“Someone’s phone rang on the 16th while I was getting ready to tee off and it kind of disturbed my focus.
“Tiger said ‘these guys are stupid’. It happened again at the 18th while I was going for the backswing. He was able to point out where the noise was coming from and he just said: ‘these guys don’t learn.”
Another high point in Ramayah’s career was winning the Marcos Invitational tournament in the Philippines in 1981.
He defeated an accomplished field of world class golfers, among them Bernhard Langer, Gary Player, David Graham, Billy Casper and Sandy Lyle, to bag the title.
Whilst giving golf lessons now, Ramayah still goes out to compete whenever possible, especially on the senior tours.
“I’m still healthy and able to compete with the younger guys out there. I can reach 500 yards (457 metres) in two shots, so I will keep on competing for as long as I can manage that distance.”
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