The genesis of a star

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Updated: November 20, 2016 6:44:21 AM

After a stellar Olympics, Aditi Ashok has scored her biggest win yet—the Indian Open

golf-lThe pressure was on the youngster after she grabbed the lead at the end of the penultimate day’s play with a three-under 69.

She’s done exactly what we hoped for when she won the Ladies’ European Tour’s (LET) Qualifying School tournament in January this year: Aditi Ashok has won on her rookie year on the LET. And she couldn’t have picked a better tournament to announce her ascendancy in the world of women’s pro golf—the Indian Open.

There’s something very insular about Ashok on the golf course: she’ll acknowledge cheers and tip her hat perfunctorily, but you can tell that her composure is unaffected by external stimuli. In the zone, so to speak.

The pressure was on the youngster after she grabbed the lead at the end of the penultimate day’s play with a three-under 69. Even though the scores show that a level-par 72 was enough to get the job done on the final day, what those don’t tell is that after a dropped shot on the 17th hole, Ashok needed a birdie on the last hole of the tournament to avoid a playoff. The fact that she managed to do so on a hole that ceded only 13 birdies over the course of the tournament, and with her biggest win on the line, speaks volumes about Ashok’s temperament and ability to handle pressure.

Played on the severely undulating fairways of the redesigned DLF Golf & Country Club, the Women’s Indian Open presented a very ‘international’ test to the field. No quarter given to local players, no ‘queering’ of the pitch so to speak: the Gary Player-design Signature championship layout that opened for play just over a year back is intimidating to say the least. Dramatic elevation changes, strategic bunkering, large rock formations and two large lakes that come into play on as many as six holes—including the signature island green on the par-3 fifth hole—make it a formidable opponent. Home course advantage is always a factor, but Ashok doesn’t play here regularly, preferring the historic fairways of the Bangalore Golf Club where she learnt the game. The galleries were rooting for her and Ashok was obviously more motivated to win on home turf, but that pretty much sums up any edge that she may have had on the field. Even more tellingly, and in what is an insight into the 18-year-old’s goals, she didn’t harp on the emotional element of winning the Indian Open in her post-win comments. “The goal was to be a winner on the Tour; win a tournament in my rookie year. This was the first time I played the Indian Open as a pro and the previous five occasions were as an amateur. So it was good to be able to play in front of my home crowd and win the tournament”, was all she would say. Read between the lines: it’s great that I’ve won the Indian Open, but the primary goal was getting into the winner’s circle.

And that was intertwined with another professional goal—to win the rookie of the year on the LET—that she’s now got a good shot at. Along with her win last week, Ashok’s tally for the season includes four straight top 10 finishes, and that magical moment in the Olympics when she captured the imagination of the country by taking the lead, albeit briefly. With two tournaments—including this week’s event in Qatar—remaining in the season, Ashok will be hoping to emerge as the top contender for that title. With her win at the Indian Open, Ashok has earned over 100,000 euros on the LET in 2016 and is currently ranked ninth in the order of merit.

But winning in Europe isn’t the only thing on her radar: bigger than hosannas on the LET is the proposition of playing on the premier women’s professional tour—the LPGA. Ashok has already ground her way through two qualifiers to make it to the final stage of the Q-School where only 20 women will emerge with the rights to play on the most lucrative women’s tour on the planet. If that happens, it will be nothing short of a watershed year for the youngster: to make it to the LET and then the LPGA in the short course of 12 months is an unprecedented achievement. I expect to see a host of brands queuing up to sign the articulate youngster. Along with her game, Ashok displays a level-headedness beyond her years; is articulate to a fault; and endorses precisely the kind of solid values that brands like to leverage.

Far from the greens of the DLF G&CC, another Indian was redeeming himself, this time on foreign shores. SSP Chawrasia, five-time Asian Tour-winner and the Indian Open champion this year, certainly has nothing to prove about his game. Except, whether it can work outside India. Chawrasia flung self-doubt, and that which his detractors have always voiced about his game, in dramatic fashion in Manila. Not even in the running at the turn on the final day which he made at three-under, Chawrasia went on a blitz, closing with five straight birdies to push his way into a three-way playoff at a cumulative 19-under-par. Even more impressive was the aggression he displayed at sudden death, going for the green in two (and making it!) on the second playoff hole. The ensuing birdie was good enough to give the Kolkata man his first, of many hopefully, victory outside India. Chawrasia has always been a poster boy for sheer grit, and the doughty player has silenced his critics once and for all.

In what turned out to be a happy hunting ground for Indian golfers, the Resorts World Manila Masters featured no less than five players on the leaderboard. Shubhankar Sharma, Jyoti Randhawa and Chirag Kumar finished one back at 18-under-par, while Chikkarangappa and Gaganjeet Bhullar just edged into the top 20. Randhawa even held the lead in the earlier stages of the tournament prompting hopes of a resurgence in the veteran’s game. And from the way he played in Manila, it’s obvious that the Gurgaon-based pro has got his swing and game back. All in all, a spectacular week for Indian golf!

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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