First, the big news, as you’ve probably already heard: Shiv Kapur won the Open Championship qualifiers at Milton Keyes, Buckinghamshire, to barge his way into the ‘true test of golf’—The Open Championship—that will commence this week at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club. Kapur, vying for one of the three spots in the two-round qualifier event at The Marquess’ course at Woburn, shot a cumulative eight-under on the back of an incredible seven-under 65 on the second day. That put him two shots clear of another doughty character, the resurgent Ian Poulter, who shared the second spot with Toby Tree to wrap up the qualifying trio.
Kapur, currently ranked 305th in the world, will be one of two Indians in the field at Royal Birkdale; Anirban Lahiri, who’s fallen out of the world’s top 50 (currently ranked 66th), got a last-minute entry after Scott Piercy withdrew. Readers will appreciate the irony and the obvious beauty of the National championships: they’re called ‘Open’ for a reason, and anyone who can prove his or her skills at the qualifiers can tee it up irrespective of rankings.
Kapur, of course, is not really an outlier. Who can forget the goose bumps he gave Indian golf fans when he birdied six of his opening seven holes at Muirfield to lead the 2013 Open Championship? And again, at the 2014 US Open, where he finished tied-23rd—the highest finish by an Indian in a Major championship. All in all, this will be Kapur’s fifth appearance at a Major and the first since the 2015 US Open, where he missed the cut.
The year 2015 was also when the Delhi golfer lost his playing rights on the European Tour (where he’d been plying his trade since 2006) and came back to play on the Asian Tour. But that’s just half of the story: diagnosed and subsequently operated for an abscess in the liver, Kapur had to take forced time out in 2016. His rankings went into free-fall and he had to miss the Olympics—a long cherished dream for the 2002 Asian Games gold medallist. In a recent interview with ESPN, Kapur narrated what he feels was a dark phase in his career. “Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong at the same time,” he said.
“There are times when self-doubt creeps in. I was wondering whether I want to put in the hours to train. I wasn’t 22, where I was training 17 hours a day with no problem. I wondered whether I had had my run and that now it was over. I thought to myself, ‘Was I ever going to win again?’” Kapur’s first win had come in his debut season as a professional—the Volvo masters 2005—and it did appear, even to fans back home, that he may not be able to resuscitate his flagging career.
It’s never been such a pleasure to have been proved wrong. Not only did Kapur pick up the pieces, he returned to training and humbly teed it up at Asian Tour events with relatively—compared to the European Tour—miniscule purses. Most importantly, Kapur returned to his trademark fade, a shot that he had abandoned in an effort to keep up with the booming driving distances of the European Tour players. Playing to his strengths, coupled with a finely-tuned short game, paid dividends when he finally won again—the 2017 Yeangender Heritage in Taipei.
The media, your columnist included, has always liked Kapur, and not necessarily for his golfing abilities.
Kapur, with his easy demeanour and nary a harsh word for anyone, has always been unfailingly polite and strikingly candid—to hacks, fans and other players alike. Easy to do when you’re doing well, but not so when the tide turns against you, and the one constant—through the Delhi golfer’s professional tribulations over the past decade—has been his exemplary conduct on and off the course. There’s no chip on this man’s shoulder.
At Taipei, inspite of the momentousness of the occasion, Kapur chose to be subdued about the victory, dedicating it instead to the memory of veteran Bollywood actor Vinod Khanna who had passed away earlier that week. Kapur attributed Khanna, a family friend of the Kapurs, for imparting him with the calmness that he felt on the course on the final stretch. When it comes to gentlemanly conduct, Kapur is already a role model whom youngsters taking to the game would do well to emulate. He may not be a frontrunner at the Open this week, but just the way he’s gone about getting back into the top field in golf is a masterclass in tenacity and self-belief.
That said, a good finish will go a long way in reinstating his playing rights in Europe.
Across the pond in the United States, the highest-ranked Indian golfer, Lahiri, gave fans something to celebrate about by shooting a scintillating seven-under 65 in the final round of the PGA Memorial Open to record a runner-up finish—his best on the PGA Tour yet. The bogey-free round, punctuated by seven birdies, leapfrogged Lahiri 25 places for the day and he wound up with a cumulative 10-under 278 for the tournament.
More exciting for Lahiri and fans in India was listening to none other than the great Jack Nicklaus, host of the Memorial, talk about Lahiri. “He (Lahiri) is a very fine young man and plays well. He is a member at the Bears Club,” Nicklaus remarked from the commentary box, as Lahiri’s stunning round drew to a close. “It feels great to have my best at Mr Nicklaus’ event. He has been very kind to Ipsa and me ever since we met him.
Being a member at the Bears and having the opportunity to speak to him and get his advice is really special,” Lahiri told PTI.
Lahiri’s fortunes are on the up—Scott Piercy withdrew last week without giving a reason, handing Lahiri a slot. He’s the one to watch for, but don’t forget to keep an eye out for a toughened-up golfer from the Delhi Golf Club who’s fought his way back into the Open.