Dhaka, Bangladeshi: Siddikur Rahman has his mother to thank for making him work as a ball boy over 20 years ago, a move which has now earned him Olympic Games fame.
The 31-year-old double Asian Tour winner became the first sportsman from his country to qualify for the Olympics on merit, an achievement which saw him become the Bangladesh contingent’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro last weekend.
And no matter where he finishes in the men’s golf competition which starts at the Olympic Golf Course today, Siddikur’s sporting story and life’s journey have already made him a champion in his own right.
Growing up in humble surroundings in Dhaka where his mother was a home-maker and father an odd-job worker, Siddikur was sent to the Kurmitola Golf Club to work as a ball boy when he was 10.
The small sums of money earned helped fund his education but it was his curiosity with golf that would eventually lead to a better life for him and his family, and ultimately take him on the road to Rio.
“My mother sent me out to work because I needed to fund my studies,” said Siddikur, one of four brothers in the family. “I eventually learned how to play golf. It wasn’t easy as I didn’t have any golf clubs so what I did was combine old or unused club heads which I stuck them onto iron rods. I would watch other golfers play and follow their swings.”
Siddikur will forever be grateful to the Kurmitola club which took the initiative to set up a golf team. Over 100 players competed for 10 spots and Siddikur prevailed by winning the qualifying event.
After notching three titles in his national amateur championship, Siddikur took the plunge by turning professional in 2007 with his club providing financial assistance to cover his initial travel expenses.
“It wasn’t easy at the beginning,” Siddikur said. “I had to spend my money wisely with flight tickets and hotel accommodation. After missing several cuts, I ran out of money. Luckily they (Kurmitola club) were generous to provide me flight tickets to three tournaments and at the Hero Honda Indian Open (in 2009), I was able to collect my biggest prize that year – US$14,875 – which helped a lot.”
Months later in mid-2010, Siddikur created history when he won the Brunei Open to become the first Bangladeshi winner on the Asian Tour. He made front page news at home and his father, Shafiqul Islam, told a local paper: “I could have never dreamt of what he has done today. I’m proud of him. We have been living in Manikdi … it is a place people call the criminal’s den. I have seen so many youths being spoiled. But I’m very happy that my four sons have avoided bad company in extreme hardship.”
A second victory followed when he won the Hero Indian Open in 2013 and Siddikur, who has finished in the top-10 of the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit on three occasions, has since earned over US$1.8 million.
“I have come a long way and I hope my victory will create more opportunities for professional golfers in Bangladesh. The Asian Tour has given me this opportunity to enhance my career and I’m very grateful. In future, I hope to see more Bangladeshis play on this Tour,” said Siddikur.
His success in Asia has raised golf’s popularity in Bangladesh a few notches. The country hosted an Asian Development Tour (ADT) event in 2011 but has yet to host an Asian Tour event. Siddikur hopes that will happen sooner rather than later.
With his growing popularity, the local media has nicknamed Siddikur the “Tiger Woods of Bangladesh”. When he played in the ADT event, his fans swarmed around him asking for autographs while in the midst of his round.
Ultimately, Siddikur knows a strong outing in Rio this week could lead to more funding being poured into golf in Bangladesh, a nation which embraces cricket like religion.
“If I can win any medal, I think it will be a great record for my country. Previously, no Bangladeshi has qualified for the Olympics although there have been athletes from my country receiving wild cards to participate. I’m really inspired. If I can win a medal, that would be the best thing to happen in my life,” he said.
“There are a lot of changes now (in Bangladesh golf) since I started playing. It is different with more support and interest. I feel proud that golf in Bangladesh is taking flight and I would like to see more Bangladeshi golfers playing all over the world and flying the country’s flag.
“In the past, some people may not follow golf. But now, more and more people are following golf especially when I have managed to play well. They are now cheering me on which is quite inspiring.”