I remember, a few years back, the Indian army had started a training programme for promising youngsters in different sports.
The idea was to groom these kids in time for the 2016 Olympics. Great idea, and everyone agrees—after the exploits of the shooters and rowers at the Games—that the Indian army is best placed to implement something on these lines.
Nalini Singh Siwach, a lady pro who was part of the programme, dropped out, and eventually has moved to a life beyond golf. With a handful of lady professionals, and a threadbare circuit, it’s no small miracle that India even has a Ladies Tour.
But it’s hardly a tour to aspire to for a youngster looking at making a living out of golf; the level of competition, variety of courses, and just the infrastructure is woefully inadequate to prepare the players for the global stage.
Aditi Ashok, the precocious 18-year-old from Bengaluru, set her sights on foreign shores from the very outset.
I wrote about her in this column when she came out of nowhere to win the Ladies’ European Tour’s Qualifying School tournament in January this year.
Not only was she the first Indian (man or woman) to win a qualifying tournament of an international tour, but, at 17 years of age, the youngest ever.
Her cumulative 23-under-par was the lowest winning score at the tournament and she equalled the men’s course record of 10-under-par and set a new mark for the ladies at the Samanah Country Club.
Even for those who’ve been following Ashok’s spectacular amateur career, the win came as a stunning validation of the young girl’s skills and temperament on a big stage and, more importantly, against a world-class field.
For those who hadn’t heard of Ashok before she finished tied-41st in Rio, here’s a recap: after picking up the game at the Bangalore Golf Club as a five-year-old, Ashok rose up the amateur ranks in unprecedented haste.
When she turned pro in January, she wrapped up her amateur career ranked 11th in the world and on top of the heap in Asia.
Along the way, she became the only Indian to play the Asian Youth Games (2013) Youth Olympic Games (2014) and Asian Games (2014).
She was the first Asian to win the 2015 St Rule Trophy and Lawson Trophy (St Andrews Links), and take the silver medal at the International European Ladies Amateur Championship 2015.
Ashok’s mettle in international events became clear when she became the first Indian to win the Ladies British Amateur Open Stroke Play Championship (2015) and the 81st Singha Thailand Amateur (2015).
She even won a WGAI professional event as a 13-year-old.
She currently holds the (tied) course record at St Andrews (new course) of eight-under-par and has made the cut in 15 of the 16 professional events played.
On the whole, she now has six international wins and 17 titles (including 5 Low Amateur finishes in LPGA/LET events).
Given such a prodigious honour roll, it comes as no surprise that Ashok not only held her ground, but contended at Rio. But since ladies’ golf barely figures in the scheme of things when it comes to the media, most non-golfers had no recognition of Ashok’s calibre.
Then, suddenly, there she was, in the top-10 after two rounds at Rio, and a genuine medal prospect.
Splashed across headlines in major dailies, and online, Ashok caught the country’s imagination in a way that no golfer has ever done.
Suddenly, golf went from being this elitist game to one that had actually thrown up a medal contender; the mantle of national pride was placed firmly on the young girl’s shoulders.
What transpired over the weekend is immaterial. Ashok has placed golf firmly on the radar for the next Olympics in 2020.
To nurture the game, the country desperately needs support—courses, coaches, funds and driving ranges—of the calibre that only the government is in a position to allocate.
And if a young girl’s performance, fuelled entirely by her determination and unflinching support of her parents and support crew—she’s coached by Kuala Lumpur-based Steven Giuliano, while her strength and conditioning is supervised by Frenchman Nicolas Cabaret—can galvanise an apathetic sporting ministry to golf’s cause, then she would have done more for the sport than any other Indian golfer in recent history.
On a tangent, in the cornucopia of the Olympics, I haven’t been able to write about another astounding feat that took place a week before the Rio games on the PGA Tour.
Major-winner, ex-FedEx champion and multiple PGA Tour-winner Jim Furyk added yet another feather to a glittering career by shooting a magical 58 (12-under).
At the Traveler’s Championship in Connecticut in the first week of this month, Furyk—of the unique loopy swing—started his final round with a par and a birdie before holing for an eagle on the third.
That started a blitz in which the veteran birdied five of the next six holes making the turn in an astonishing eight-under 27.
He continued the barrage with three straight birdies on the back nine and then curled in a fantastic 24-footer for another two on the par-3 16.
Even though he missed a couple of birdie chances on the last two holes—one of which would have got him to an unimaginable 57, Furyk signed off as the first man, first player to ever shoot 58 in more than 1.5
million competitive rounds played on the PGA Tour. For those of you who missed this once-in-a-lifetime performance, I would strongly recommend going on the PGA Tour’s site to watch the highlights. Spine-tingling stuff.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game