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robably very few people know what a legendary golf player Nandasena Perera was during the eighties and nineties. Besides winning the silver medal at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, Nandasena could have emerged as one of the top world ranked players in the game.
Perera, at one stage literally overtook the achievements of another legendary Sri Lankan golfer in Pin Fernando, who was synonymous to all Sri Lankans. In fact, Perera revolutionised the game by winning in all the foreign tournaments he participated in. After winning the Sri Lanka Amateur Open title in the early eighties, Nandasena was called to represent Sri Lanka in Amateur events in other parts of Asia and the Pacific.
He first represented Sri Lanka at the Singapore Amateur Open and won it playing against some of the leading Asian golfers. He was called to participate in this tournament by Ana Punchihewa, Johnny de Saram and S.P. Makan Markar. Winning became a habit as Nandasena continued to win in Malaysia, Singapore, India, Pakistan and in Sabah Malaysia.
Nandasena was determined to bring more glory to Sri Lanka and was picked to represent Sri Lanka at the Asian Games in Beijing in 1990. The gold medal was almost in his pocket but due to his sporting gesture his opponent won during the playoff.
They were tied at the end of 18 holes and went to the play off to decide the winner. His opponent Segesi Mariana teed off to the woods and Nandasena was in the fairway. They were searching for the missing ball, but it was Nandasena who showed Mariana the ball before they continued to play.
Mariana hit his ball into the bunker but Nandasena was on the green and had only one stroke to putt. But Mariana was so lucky that he putted from the bunker and won the gold medal.
Mariana then went to the USA and finished among the top ten players in the world ranking, but Nandasena could not make it to the USA because he suffered from arthritis. Had he gone, then Sri Lanka would have had a top ranked player in the world.
Then he turned professional and participated in the Masters tournaments. He finished second best in Malaysia PGS, Singapore PGS, New Zealand PGS before going over to Japan. Unfortunately for him, it was cold in Japan and after the first round where he finished among the top 3 Nandasena fell sick. Arthritis gripped him and could not continue playing. Instead he was hospitalised in Japan for one year and underwent several operations on his knees. He could not recover fully and returned to Sri Lanka. He continued playing after reverting to Amateur status after a two years break.
Johnny de Saram called him back to the game as an Amateur and he continued to play in the club tournaments so that it would be an encouragement to the others.
Nandasena who lived close to the golf course began as a ball boy where he would pick golf balls and return them to the players. He began playing with wooden sticks and used a welarthur for a ball in his back garden. This is because nobody was allowed into the golf course in the early years.
Then he became a caddie to help carry the clubs in a bag for the players. He learnt while watching the players play their rounds.
Nandasena Perera said that when winning in the Asian region as an amateur he won an important event, the All India Open. It was then that the Sri Lanka Golf Union wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister R. Premadasa requesting him to present a piece of land to Nandasena in close proximity to the golf course. This materialised and the club members helped him to build the house where he lives now. It was after this that Nandasena won the silver medal at the Asian Games.
“If a player practices regularly he can rise in standard and win at other tournaments. A player should be humble and not lose his head after winning in tournaments. If this happens the player will lose respect from others,” observed Perera.
“In Sri Lanka no matter how good a player is, he will be criticised at the end of his career. Everybody praises him when the player is doing well,” noted Nandasena.
Nandasena who has turned 61 years continues to coach young players. But his body is not in good shape as he suffers from various ailments that cannot be cured easily.