They have so much in common, and they couldn’t be more different. The gangly Gaganjeet Bhullar, of the classic rhythmic big-turn golf swing, and Ajeetesh Sandhu, of the tight compact modern action, so reminiscent of Adam Scott.
They have so much in common, and they couldn’t be more different. The gangly Gaganjeet Bhullar, of the classic rhythmic big-turn golf swing, and Ajeetesh Sandhu, of the tight compact modern action, so reminiscent of Adam Scott. Both, the sort of players you could look at for hours on the range.
Don’t take my word for it: if you’re in the capital then by all means head to the Delhi Golf Club, and on the B-course which is where the driving range is set up during tournaments and watch these boys hit the ball. Today, in the final round of the Asian Tour’s Panasonic Open, Sandhu will be hoping to notch up his third win while Bhullar will be vying for his ninth title. This digression is engineered simply to present the important bit of information first: there’s an Asian Tour tournament’s final round underway as you read this. And it’s underway bang in the middle of Delhi—you’ve got no excuse not to make the most of that opportunity.
Coming back to the boys from Punjab (where they picked up the game as juniors, and where they continue to live): while Bhullar hones his skills, rather idiosyncratically, at an obscure golf course at the Rail Coach Factory facilities in small-town Kapurthala, Sandhu prefers to practise at the modern and imaginative Chandigarh Golf Academy.
Bhullar and Sandhu—who played a fair bit of junior golf together—are both 29 years old. With his second Macao Open crown last month, one that he kept close to his chest from the opening round onward, Bhullar is the first man to have won eight Asian Tour titles at his age; Sandhu, who turned pro as a 19-year-old, had to wait 10 long years to win his maiden title at the Yeangder Tournament Players’ Championship in Taipei—also last month. Sandhu is the second Indian to win the title—Bhullar put that in his kitty in 2012.
And then, as if in a hurry to make up for lost time, or perhaps to punctuate the fact that the win in Taiwan was no fluke, Sandhu also snapped up a 36-hole event—the Taiheiyo Club Challenge Tournament—on the second-rung tour in Japan—the week following his winning antics in Taiwan. “The Asian tour win has surely helped me. When I got the lead yesterday, I knew I had it in me to pull it off. On the course, which is such a mental game, that is half the battle,” admitted Sandhu after the win in Japan.
While Bhullar won in inimitable style—wire to wire—wresting the lead early in the first round that he never relinquished (or even looked in danger of losing), Sandhu had to grit out a nerve-wracking one-shot victory in Taipei. Leading by a stroke over Johannes Veerman, Sandhu watched as the American’s eagle chip on the final hole of the tournament hit the pin but refused to drop. It didn’t get easier in Japan either—Sandhu had to prevail in a playoff to win the title.
The two wins for Sandhu were unprecedented: the Chandigarh lad did not appear to be on top of his game for most of the season, and missed getting a spot in the Asian Tour’s qualifiying school earlier in the year. That meant that he had to rely on country exemptions and sponsor’s invites to get into a limited number of Asian Tour events. All of that changes after his win in Taipei—Sandhu now has a two-year full-time window to ply his trade in Asia.
Bhullar, as he’s demonstrated again and again, doesn’t like spending too much time out of the winner’s circle. And when he takes control of a tournament from the start, as he did in Macao, then the smart money is on him to take it to take the winning cheque. This victory is the third wire-to-wire win for Bhullar and the second time he’s done it in Macau.
That Sandhu is fired up after his victory is obvious. After winning in Japan, he battled Bhullar down the stretch in Macau finishing three shots off his compatriot’s winning score of 13-under-par and in tied-second place. This week , at the Panasonic Open, he shot an eight-under 64 in the first round—his best competitive score at the Delhi Golf Club—to take the early lead. At the time this column was written, Sandhu is lying tied for fifth place after an indifferent over-par 73 in his second round, but very much in the hunt for his first international title at home. The lead at midway point is with American Paul Peterson who equalled Sandhu’s eight-under on the second day.
Home boy Shiv Kapur, who nearly didn’t play on account of a lingering sickness, is a surprise contender in second place. Kapur, who before the tournament was finding it hard to maintain energy levels after nine holes has played with an aggression and abandon that has reaped him unexpected rewards at his home course. DGC rarely favours risky play, and one can only hope that roll of the dice favours Kapur when he’s gunning for the title today. “I’ll be very happy if I can do the same for the first two rounds. If 20-under-par isn’t good enough for a win, then hats off to the person who beats me,” said the Delhi pro on Friday evening. There is no one who deserves a win at this golf course as much as Kapur, and that possibility will set off celebrations, the kind of which haven’t been seen in a very long time.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game