They started calling him Tiger. Not that he played like Tiger Woods but because many thought he resembled the iconic American golfer.
Back then, Rofin Shamim was an unassuming caddy-boy trying to make 200-300 rupees a day by pulling the golf bags of players at the Karachi Golf Club.
“There were many people at the KGC who would tell me that I resembled Tiger Woods. Then they started calling me Tiger,” says Rofin.
Rofin hails from a Punjabi Christian family. He was born in Gujranwala but when he was five years old his folks moved to Karachi in search of work.
It was a similar reason that brought Rofin face to face with golf. “I started working as a caddy at KGC when I was fourteen years old. Actually my brother worked as a caddy at the club and when he left I took over his role.”
It was a time when Tiger Woods was the undisputed king of world golf.
“One day, when I had just started working as a caddy, a Club member told me that he thought I totally resembled Tiger Woods. Soon, all of them, mostly my fellow caddies, were saying the same and they all started calling me Tiger. They still do.”
So at 14, Rofin told himself that he wanted to be Pakistan’s Tiger Woods. But odds were stacked against him. He was poor and his family needed him to bring in his daily wages. Then to make matters worse, golf is an extremely expensive game.
However, Rofin managed. He continued working as a caddy but whenever there was an opportunity, he would borrow a club and hit a few balls.
He was also lucky to garner the support of Jamal Badshah, one of the top coaches in Pakistan. “I took coaching from Jamal Bhai who didn’t charge me a penny. He really helped me out,” he says.
Then there were a few generous KGC members like Mansoor Sultan, who appreciated Rofin’s talent and hunger and provided much-needed support.
“Mr. Mansoor Sultan saw my passion for golf. He gave him me a golf set after which I started practicing properly back in 2006.”
Trying to balance his job as a caddy and his love for golf, it took Rofin almost five years to learn the game. “It was slow because I had no money and no time to spend on the course.”
But whatever time he had, Rofin devoted it to playing the game. And it started paying off.
In 2010, he won a monthly club tournament, beating Muhammad Siddiq with a gross score of 79. In 2013, he established himself as one of the best players among the caddies, winning the Bank Al-Habib title with a score of one-under 143 in the two-day event. Later, in the same year he won the tournament for caddies in the CNS Open – Pakistan’s richest golf event.
It was after those wins that Rofin was accepted as an amateur and started representing Sindh Golf Association (SGA). At the DHA Open, he finished third behind Zohaib Asif and Sajid Khan. He finished fifth in the Sindh Open and was runner-up at the SGA Cup with Waseem Rana winning the title.
You can’t impress as a pro if you spend most of your time caddying for others
Rofin’s next target was to get a Pro card. His opportunity came when Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) conducted trials at different Karachi courses. Rofin featured in the trials and made the cut to earn a Pro card. He went to Rawalpindi and made the cut at the COAS Open.
But professional golf, especially in a country like Pakistan which doesn’t have any lucrative circuit, is a cutthroat world. With little or no support, Rofin found it increasingly difficult to compete in tournaments outside Karachi.
“Even for tournament that are held in Karachi, I can’t practice enough because mostly I’m caddying,” he said. “I can only go out of the city to play tournaments if somebody comes up and help me out by dishing out some money.”
That, according to Rofin, is the primary reason why he is still unable to make his presence felt on the national professional circuit.
“You can’t impress as a pro if you spend most of your time caddying for others,” he says matter-of-factly.
Rofin’s dilemma is that he has to earn a living for his wife, son and the rest of the family. “If I don’t pull bags, we don’t eat. We depend on my caddy work,” he says.
But despite his dismal situation, Rofin hasn’t lost hope.
“I will continue trying because I know I can become a good professional. I know I’m good enough to do that.”
Over the years, Rofin has seen caddies trying to become professionals only to fall by the wayside. But he has also seen others who have succeeded.
Some of Karachi’s top pros were once caddies like Amjad Yousuf and Waheed Baloch. The two are today counted among the leading pros of the country. But the difference is that players like Amjad and Waheed were lucky to find support from organisations like Pakistan Navy and PPL.
Unluckily, Rofin hasn’t managed to do so.
“I know that if somebody comes up and sponsor me for a year, I will achieve results. I’m sure about that.”
In a country where there isn’t any system in place that can enable talented and committed sportsmen like Rofin to succeed, private sponsorship plays a key role. Over the years, major organisations and business groups like PIA, National Bank, UBL, and many others have helped out countless athletes. One hopes that either one of them will come forward to support Rofin in his bid to become Pakistan’s very own Tiger Woods.