If you’re a golfer in the NCR, your columnist insists you stop reading right now: leave that for the cab drive to the Delhi Golf Club.
Now, assuming you have taken that piece of unsolicited, but well-meaning directive, here’s what you need to know first: you’re in a cab because parking is likely to be an issue at the DGC, where the final round of the Asian Tour’s Panasonic Open is unfolding as you read. If you’re a bit late, then it doesn’t matter because groups have teed off late, stymied by the fog that descended on the capital this last week.
Which players to follow? Now, that’s a moral dilemma I hope to have resolved by the time you read this. Here’s the rub: it’s a toss up between giving into nostalgia and rooting for two of the original trio of Indian golf—Jyoti Randhawa, and Arjun Atwal (Jeev Milkha Singh withdrew after the first round); or, eyes firmly on the future, following the likes of Rashid Khan, Khalin Joshi and the superlatively talented Shubhankar Sharma. Out of this lot (and at the time this column is being written), Joshi is tied for the lead at six-under (with Sri Lankan Mithun Perera and Thai J Jazz) with Khan, Sharma and Randhawa a stroke back. Randhawa’s peers, Shamim Khan, Atwal and Digvijay Singh, are in hot pursuit at four-under.
It’s your call whom to follow, but I can give you some pointers. Sharma has undoubtedly one of the finest swings in the world of golf. If you’re a golf swing enthusiast and looking to absorb, subliminally, a sense of timing and action by watching the pros, then this youngster is the best you can do. But if, like your columnist, you have a soft spot for Atwal’s lovely flowing action or memories of Randhawa’s multiple wins at this venue, then stick with the vets. Randhawa, in particular, has shown a return to form recently, stirring talk of a comeback—I don’t want to jinx anything by talking too soon. Suffice to say that my loyalties, at least on this occasion, lie with India’s renaissance man.
If it appears that I’m turning a blind eye to the international challenge, then that would be an accurate observation. Admittedly, there is a certain amount of fan-myopia there, but my dismissal of the threat that players from overseas pose today is backed up by solid data. The wily DGC has always shown a pre-disposition to reward Indian players’ course knowledge and strategy, specifically with respect to the Panasonic Open. Four of the last five editions have been won by Indians (including defending champion Chiragh Kumar). Accuse me of convenient thinking if you will, but the possibility of any of the international contingent, including the wily Perera or the Thai sensation Jazz, being able to thwart a spirited Indian challenge would be a nothing short of a miracle.
The question is not, in my opinion, about who will win the Panasonic Open 2016. Rather it is about which Indian player will etch his name on the trophy.
If Randhawa is playing to regain lost ground and re-announce his intentions of getting back in the winner’s circle, Sharma and Joshi are playing to establish themselves as the next big things in Indian golf. Both will be hoping to secure their Asian Tour card for the next season. The two Khans—Shamim and Rashid—know the DGC like the back of their hands. In fact, there’s an interesting anecdote about the two of them playing the course in near darkness to hone their skills and to show just how well they know this layout. With the fog rolling in heavy and visibility down, those very skills ought to come in handy.
The greenskeepers at the DGC bowled a googly on the second day by not cutting the greens fine, making the flat surfaces slightly slower on the stimpmeter, leading many of the home players to scratch their heads. That will not be the case on Sunday and the home advantage can be pushed to the utmost.
All in all, it’s likely to be an exciting day of action with the battle coming down to the wire—the par-5 18th—as it often does at the DGC.
But that’s certainly not what it’s all about and hardly all that you can look forward to today. Nothing typifies golf in Delhi like a laidback winter Sunday cornucopia at the Delhi Golf Club. Follow the morning groups, take a break at the pavilion and partake of some of those magnificent tikkas, rolls and brew. And then join the galleries with the final group on the back nine to see the tournament to its climax. Take my word for it: if you’re a golfer in Delhi, there really is no better way to spend a lovely winter Sunday than on the sidelines at the Delhi Golf Club. See you there!
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game