IF HUMILITY and compassion are yardsticks for a true king, then Arnold Palmer was, arguably, the only man to ever occupy the throne in the kingdom of Golf. There’s no better measure of worth of this man than the fact that spectacular play and victories are not what Palmer is remembered by. Palmer’s legacy will always be his ability to connect with people, with his fans, impeccable standards of personal conduct, and philanthropy—to golf, and the world at large. Professional golf today owes its financial success to men like Palmer who understood how important it was to grow the game by interacting with people. This king never lived in a tower, and will always be the ultimate role model for golfers and people alike.
Indian sportswomen really showed us how it’s done at the Olympics, and Aditi Ashok, the young 18-year-old from Bengaluru, showed how to build on that momentum. From winning the grueling Q-school to get her card on the Ladies European Tour, Ashok went on to win the Indian Open and the Qatar Ladies Open in consecutive weeks. Ashok made 207355 Euros in 2016—fuelled by an incredible nine top-ten finishes—and won the rookie of the year award. She’s heading for the LPGA and its imminent that she’s going to be the first international superstar that this country has ever produced. She’s my pick for athlete of the year, man or woman. Following Ashok’s triumph came news that three more players—Amandeep Drall, Neha Tripathi, and Vani Kapoor—secured their cards on the LET in a historic first for ladies’ golf in the country.
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Amidst a controversy over players pulling out of the Olympics because of the threat of the Zika virus, golf made a triumphant return to the Games in 2016 after over a century of absence. Professional golf stars mingled with international athletes in the Games village, soaked in the atmosphere in the opening and closing ceremonies, and had an experience hitherto unknown in the world of professional golf. The most enthused was Englishman Justin Rose, who appropriately held off Swede Henrik Stenson in a nail-biting finish to win the Olympic Gold and make history. Silver medalist Stenson wasn’t complaining: in a stellar year, he won his first Major—the Open Championship—at Troon, and finished as the top-ranked player in Europe for the second time in his career.
The Americans, known for individual brilliance rather than cohesive team-effort took a leaf out of the Continentals’ book by huddling together and executing a strategy to win back the Ryder Cup. Led by captain Davis Love III and team-leader Phil Mickelson, the Americans stomped to a 17-11 victory at Hazeltine National. Patrick Reed’s singles victory over Rory McIlroy produced the most electric matchplay duel of the modern era. Rory got something to celebrate later in the year when, after producing the most unbelievable last minute dash at the Tour Championship, the Belfast boy won the tournament, and with it, the FedEx Cup
Dustin Johnson, golf’s best athlete, known for driving prodigious distances as much as he is for blowing the lead in the final stages of big championships, came up trumps at the US Open in Oakmont. With his first Major championship victory, the 32-year-old was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers and won the PGA tour’s Arnold Palmer Award for leading the money list.
Following a disappointing two-over 72 in the third round of the Travelers Championship, the 46-year-old Jim Furyk unprecedentedly shot a 58, the first person in history to do so in a PGA Tour event. He hit all 18 greens in regulation and had a putt for birdie on every hole except one. More than anything else, the veteran—with his loopy unorthodox action—is an enduring reaffirmation that any swing, if you commit to work at it, works.
Anirban Lahiri, India’s top-ranked player, had much to rue about after losing his way on the final nine of the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Lahiri, leading by four strokes coming into the final round, and seemingly cruising to his first PGA Tour win, suffered a quadruple bogey when a tee shot hit a tree (and never came down!) For the second time in as many weeks, Lahiri came tantalisingly close to a victory that eluded him in 2016. The Bengaluru lad displayed grit and temperament to come back with a birdie and eagle but couldn’t finish better than tied-third.
Honourable mentions go to Tiger Woods, who, yet again, threatened to come out of semi-retirement. Woods’ produced more birdies than blemishes at the limited field Hero World Challenge. Woods led the field in birdies (24) and double bogeys (6) and gave galleries some genuine vintage thrills sparking discussions on his comeback. It was a credible performance for someone who hadn’t competed for 466 days. As always we wait with bated breath. Closer home, SSP Chawrasia, got the monkey off his back by winning on the Asian Tour in Manila—notching up his first win overseas. Chawrasia also won the Indian Open at the Delhi Golf Club in March. Mukesh Kumar, winner of more professional titles than you’re likely to see in your lifetime, won the Panasonic Open for his first Asian Tour victory. Gaganjeet Bhullar, the Kapurthala lad, laid off by injury last year, came back with a bang to win Asian Tour titles in Indonesia and Korea. Last, but not the least, Rashid Khan, the wiry lad from DGC, bounced back from a career-threatening motorcycle accident with a clutch of wins on the PGTI and another in Sri Lanka—to win the PGTI Order of Merit title. Khan, who won the award for the second time in his career, took home a cumulative 44. 8 lac in prize money for the season. Not bad for a comeback year!
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game