If you’re in the field of an Asian Tour event’s pro-am, then no one will judge you for slipping that news into every golfing conversation you have. This unabashed self-promotion isn’t about seeking false glory. It’s just basic validation—the kind which the majority of us who toil away at this infuriating game rarely get from the quality, or lack thereof, of our golf. Implicit in a pro-am’s invite is the fact that you can play golf.
Nonetheless, all of this grandstanding isn’t prudent when the event—the DGC Open presented by Mastercard on this occasion—is being played at the Delhi Golf Club. Let me explain–the course is closed for play to the members for a couple of weeks preceding a pro event. And that leaves the hapless regulars in the throes of serious withdrawals from being denied their daily dose of 18 holes. No sir, the DGC’s golfing fraternity isn’t massively enthused about being in the gallery for a pro event, especially when it comes at the cost of a reduction in their own playing schedule. And if you’re thoughtless enough to brag about allying with the enemy, then prepare to bear the brunt of that pent up angst. This is not to be trifled with; do that, and the next time you play with a DGC member, say, a year down the line, they will give you that ‘I know what you did last summer’ look and proceed to take your money, your spirit, and rub your nose into the jhadis. Take it from someone who’s walked through the fire.
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Given the risky nature of the endeavour, just getting to the first tee without any incident felt like an accomplishment. Just what the Stoics ordered–control what you can, and don’t bother with what you can’t. And we all know that golf is about providence, not ability. Still, the prospect of making a complete fool of yourself in the company of a pro and a corporate bigwig is pretty nerve-wracking. It didn’t help that we were off the first tee in a shotgun start event—proof that we’d been slotted as a marquee group. So much for dribbling one past the ladies tee and scurrying off into the distance. Mukul Sukhani, representing the sponsors—Mastercard—immediately put me on guard. When someone is especially humble, you can infer that he’s obviously near the top of the corporate ladder, and can probably outdrive you with a wedge.
We were joined by a tall bloke who sauntered in with the kind of casual swagger that only golf pros possess on the first tee. “You’re Scandinavian?” I blurted out. ‘Rikard, actually, and yes I’m Swedish,” he responded in good humour.
That’s when the penny dropped. ‘Aha!’ I said triumphantly, with the air of someone about to establish his impeccable credentials. “I remember you. And that fabulous win at the Sail Open in 2010. Bet you like this course, eh!” I crowed. “Yes it was,” replied Karlberg, somewhat unaffected by this display of journalistic virtuosity. “In fact, I like it more because of my second outing here that year…when I won the Indian Open,” he proffered. Right. Of course you did, Rikard. At this point, the marker at the DGC, no stranger to human folly, thoughtfully intervened and checked if the gents would in fact like to play some golf? In true DGC tradition, we complied, meekly.
And so it began. Karlberg dispatched the ball a gazillion miles straight down the middle with a fairway wood while Mukul and I—not content with such a simple challenge—decided to assess our formidable abilities to conjure miraculous escapes from the jhadis on either side of the fairway. As a three-ball goes, the sheer range of our golfing abilities was clearly astonishing—especially for the caddies, as they dived for cover. The precedent was set—these boys would continue to cower in mortal fear behind our golf bags for the rest of the day.
“You’re really passionate about the game!” Sukhani said, masterfully opening a conversation which commanded undivided attention before weaving Mastercard into the mix. “Golf is a natural fit for our ‘priceless’ programme. It’s great for brand visibility and connecting with fans of the sport. But really what we’re looking for is to create experiences with people on the basis of what they are really passionate about. Like you, golfers are fanatics when it comes to the game.” True that, I thought… if Will Smith had been a golfer then his Pursuit of Happyness would have been a very different movie.
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On a serious note, there’s no understating the significance of new sponsors for the game in India that, till a few years back was propped up by a handful of individuals. Mastercard has been going all out when it comes to golf: whether it’s the multi-year extension to its sponsorship with the USPGA Tour or foraying into the game in India with the DGC Open. It’s a big commitment too–sponsorship in golf isn’t for the faint-hearted; picking up the tab for professional events and recruiting top players as brand ambassadors is a multi-million-dollar enterprise.
Whether it was on account of Sukhani’s presence in our group, or just his inherent nature, Karlberg was gracious beyond belief. Not only did he not roll his eyes—at some of our instantly forgettable shots—but even gave Sukhani and me a few tips along the way. The Swede, like many of us, never learnt to align ‘parallel to the target line,’ and has just found a way to make that work for him. “I stand with my feet on the target line, open my clubface and then hit a push draw. That’s my stock shot,” he told us. “You just need to find your own swings and stick to it, ” he suggested. Gobsmacking stuff.
It was pretty special, that day was. It’s rare to find the kind of bonhomie the three of us discovered, when you’re paired up with strangers on the course. Especially when one happens to be an Indian Open winner, and the other an industry heavyweight who doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. Obviously I’m gushing a bit, but that’s directly correlated with the fact that I didn’t hack around the course that day. Not a single ball lost, folks. If that’s not an achievement at the DGC, then I don’t know what is.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game