Remember the Papwa - SA’s first non-white champion golfer

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Sep 21, 2021, 04:22

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.

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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.”

Oct 14, 2021, 20:19

I saw Papwa play at the King David course near Cape Town. His unorthodox grip was left hand low….almost impossible for the full golf swing, although it’s a new trend in putting.

On one of the holes I watched Papwa he put it into a green side bunker. As he walked up to his ball his entourage of Indian supporters wailed ‘Oh Papwa” as they saw his severe fried egg lie.

No problem for Papwa he got down in the bunker and executed a perfect extraction to within a few feet of the pin…..and his supporters greeted that with another “Oh Papwa!”

The whole thing had a cool vibe.

Oct 14, 2021, 22:52

Yes that unusual grip. The days of Gary Player, Terry Westbrook, Dennis Hutchison, Hugh Biocchi, Wayne Westner. Knew a guy who recently died, a local pub goer, his name was Barry Franklin who actually was a SA Champion somewhere in the sixties. He told me he won the German Open and played often against Gary Player, even with Nicklaus, Sevy, and the greats of his era.

He was a rather skinny small fella and no one took any notice and thought he was a bull duster bar fly. But he was not. It was genuine. He a very bad accident on North Coast that ended his career and ended up running a 9 hole Golf Course in Cato Ridge. He told me he coached Ernie Els when he was a boy. I believe him, he was a close friend of Hutchy and told me stories of their travels in Aussie...they had to drive from West to South and East and their many funnies.

He also told me at St Andrews in Scotland, Sean Connery used to try and push in 4 balls with the Pro's after making 007 movie/s. He became a nuisance and every pro avoided him...trying to get free coaching even after Dr No.

Yes, I believe was a bit of a legend in golf.

Oct 14, 2021, 23:17

Connery used to play at one of my clubs while they were making The Untouchables in Chicago. He was pretty well liked. In later years I saw him one day at Baia in Cape Town, a small wizened man….hard to relate to the 007 legend.

Oct 15, 2021, 00:03

The story about Papwa serves us well not only in highlighting the greatness of his golf but also the indignity he as well as millions of underprivileged South Africans had to suffer simply because of the pigmentation of their skin. That's the everlasting impression I'll always have.

Oct 16, 2021, 15:51

And yet you bailed and lived a comfortable life in Australia.  All that passion never translated into doing anything constructive….just a lot of hot air. 

Oct 18, 2021, 16:28

All us ex Saffers left for our own personal reasons.

Some because of the political policies, others to provide a safer future for our families and many for economic reasons.

Cannot blame anyone for seeking a better and safer life for their families.

Many of the folks who left the SA shores not only took a hit financially but to leave family members and close friends behind is difficult to understand and appreciate unless you have travelled that route.

Great for all who have successfully navigated this path but many did not make it unfortunately.

Family first.

Well done to all who have made it work and to all who returned to SA trust you made the correct decision.

Good Luck.

Oct 18, 2021, 16:34

He was a caddy at the old Umgeni Hackers golf course a course that taught me that golf was not my game.

Yes under difficult circumstances he managed to make it with determination and help from many other golfers.

But he had what it took, guts, class, skill and most of all determination.

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