Over the top by Meraj Shah: Redemption day

Marcel Siem vanquished past demons at the DLF G&CC to win the 2023 Hero Indian Open.

golf, sports
German professional golfer Marcel Siem

Gurugram, 2010: The pro-am of the 2010 Avantha Masters is underway at the DLF Golf & Country Club. In the field are big international names including the likes of Darren Clarke, Oliver Fisher, Pablo Larrazabal, as well as a bevy of India’s top-ranked players. It’s the big prize: the field is vying for a $1.4 million purse — the highest ever for a golf tournament in India — at the event tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, The Asian Tour, and the PGTI.

In such an accomplished company, a bunch of amateurs, including your columnist, are hacking their way across the erstwhile Arnold-Palmer-design, championship layout. “I’m just glad you’re a golf writer,” smirks Angelo Que, the pro I’ve been paired with, as the round, mercifully, comes to a close.

Also read: Over the top by Meraj Shah: Play the game

Very subtle Angelo. Can’t blame him though: given the exceptionally horrific performance he’s been witness to, he’s just being polite. Passing by, a little-known 29-year-old German player happens to overhear the exchange and takes pity. “Come by the range later?” Marcel Siem says. To cut a long story short, Siem, who had already been on the range for six hours when I met him, asked me to revert to my ‘natural’ up-and-down action rather than incorporate all the swing advice (admittedly half-baked) I was trying to incorporate. As it turned out, the advice was sound and worked (at least for a reasonably long time) for me. And that approach was obviously working for him: the next day, in the first round of the event, Siem shot a stellar eight-under to lead the field. He fell off the radar on the second day and didn’t make any serious moves over the weekend but that spectacular first-round effort introduced the German player to golf fans in India.

Siem’s career graph in the last decade has been a rollercoaster, but with the doughtiness typical of his countrymen, the German has always found a way to rescue himself when needed and win back his gains. In 2014 Siem won his biggest event — the BMW Invitational — making it two wins in two years. Over the last nine years preceding the 2023 Hero Indian Open, Siem has lost his European card on two occasions. In 2021 he fought his way back after playing for six months on the second-tier Challenge Tour, and last year he wrested his playing rights back at the qualifying school. The timing couldn’t have been better for a mid-career resurgence.

In the first couple of months of 2023, Siem notched up three top-20 finishes in the four events he entered. And then made his way to the final event in the DP World Tour’s Asian Swing — The Hero Indian Open — being played at the scene of his scintillating 64 all those years back.

Except that, as most fans know, the Gary Player-redesigned DLF G&CC bears no resemblance to the Arnold-Palmer layout that preceded it. Let’s just say that the course has acquired quite a reputation amongst the pros as an unforgiving, brutal even, layout that gives no quarter for an errant shot. Given the course’s potential for inflicting severe damage on a scorecard. It’s a course, where some knowledge of the greens apart, there really is no significant home advantage.

Siem began the final round trailing by a shot to countryman Yannick Paul who’d held the lead ever since a stunning four-birdie finish on the first day. The two pulled level at the 13th hole and Siem took the lead finally on the 15th after drilling in what turned out to be a crucial birdie. Four pars later, and despite some last-gasp heroics from Paul and Joost Luiten on the final hole, Siem got home with one stroke to spare.

The usually stoic German was anything but impassive on that last nine, pulling out fist pumps and talking to himself to get the job done. “Winning a golf tournament, being back in the winner’s circle now, it means everything to me. It’s just unbelievable,” Siem gushed at the post-event presser. “Two years ago I wasn’t even sure if I could still compete on the DP World Tour and now I’m a winner again…”

Also read: Over the top by Meraj Shah: Fit for kings

Contrary to the low scores forecast for the event, Siem’s winning total of 14 under is the highest winning score on the DP World Tour in 2023. The DLF G&CC did get its own back though: the cut at four over is the highest cut mark this year on Tour. That was exemplified by the fact that only seven players managed to record bogey-free rounds over four days. Of the 11 holes that played over par for the week, the par-four 14th hole presented the most intimidating hurdle — no one really got a measure of this hole. Even Siem, who navigated his way better than anyone else on this course took three dropped strokes over the first three rounds to crack the riddle. Importantly, he did get it right on the final day, and that would turn out to be the crucial stroke that separated him from Paul in the end.

But none of this matters now. All that the record books will show is that two weeks after his 500th appearance on the DP World Tour, 36-year-old Marcel Siem won his fifth victory — the 2023 Hero Indian Open. And that eight-under-64 in 2010, spectacular as it was, will no longer be Siem’s defining moment in India.

Instagram/Marcel Siem

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First published on: 05-03-2023 at 04:15 IST
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