With no playing rights on any Tour, Rahil Gangjee pulls a rabbit out of the bag, says Meraj Shah

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New Delhi | Published: May 6, 2018 2:46:07 AM

Just to give some context to Gangjee’s come-out-of-nowhere win, here’s a quick lowdown.

Golfer Rahil Gangjee, golf. golf news, golf news indiaGolfer Rahil Gangjee

The only recollection I had about Rahil Gangjee’s maiden international victory in 2004 was that the Kolkatan pro had bested some of the best players in the world. And that it happened early in his career before he decided to move base to the US and pursue his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. I also remembered, vaguely, that Gangjee had, at some point in recent years, won on the PGTI.

If someone had asked me a month back, that’s pretty much all I would have been able to conjure up from memory. Now, after the Kolkatan pro has unprecedentedly gone and won the Japan Tour and Asian Tour co-sanctioned Panasonic Open in Osaka, golf hacks such as your columnist have been digging up the tour’s archives to refresh our memories.

Just to give some context to Gangjee’s come-out-of-nowhere win, here’s a quick lowdown. Gangjee turned professional in 2000, capping a stellar amateur career that saw him ranked number one in the country in 1999. He had two wins at East India Amateur (1997, 1999) and an international title at the ’97 Sri Lankan amateur. The rookie had a dream start when he won the highly-rated Volvo Masters China 2004, only his fourth event of the season (and eighth ever on Tour). Gangjee not only won, he won in a playoff and, in the process, beat a field that included superstars of the day like Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam. That’s how long back it was.

Even though he didn’t win on the Asian Tour over the next four years, Gangjee won his second pro title at the PGTI Player’s Championship in 2008. Unfortunately for the Kolkatan pro, a solitary top 10 finish is all he was able to notch up on the Asian Tour in 2008, and ended up losing his card for 2009.

Cut to 2011, Gangjee decided to pursue his dream of playing on the PGA Tour and moved base to the US where he joined the Web.com Tour. Two tough years on the feeder tours in the States did not yield any victories (an 11th place at the 2011 Rex Hospital Open was his best finish) or adequate prize money to allow Gangjee to continue—he returned to the Asian Tour’s fold in 2012.

In retrospect, Gangjee’s fortunes have swung every alternate year: things appeared, briefly, to be on the up in 2014 when he nearly won the 2014 Panasonic Open in Delhi, but the litany of missed cuts continued all through 2015. In 2016 again, with four top-10 finishes, the 39-year-old appeared to have found his game, but could only manage a single top-10 finish in 2017. In February 2018, while Shubhankar Sharma announced his arrival on the big stage by winning the Maybank Championship, Gangjee missed the cut—his fifth in a row on the Asian Tour—and his world ranking plummeted to 916. Things were, to put it mildly, looking grim. For the first time in his career, Gangjee was unable to secure playing rights on any Tour.

And then, last month, almost 14-years to that momentous day when he’d won in China, Gangjee made a birdie on the 18th hole of the Ibaraki Country Club in Osaka to edge out Korea’s Hyungsung Kim by a stroke and win the Panasonic Open. Even more crucially, with this win, Gangjee secured the 61st and last card up for grabs for full playing rights on the Asian Tour for 2018.

Gangjee started the final day tied in second place and, after an early birdie, dropped a couple of strokes by the turn. A string of three birdies from the 12th to the 14th holes tied him in the top stop with overnight leader Kim with four holes to go. Korean player Junggon Hwang, meanwhile, finished well to tie the leaders in the clubhouse. Just when it looked like a three-way playoff was certain, Gangjee made a crucial birdie on the last hole to put it beyond Kim and Hwang. In doing so, he became only the third Indian player after Jyoti Randhawa and Jeev Milkha Singh to win the Panasonic Open in Japan, and leapfrogged up the world rankings to 372.

“It has been 14 years. I’ve been in such situations a few times now, but obviously, have not been able to convert my chances until today. It has been a very hard 14 years and the thing that surprises even myself is my will to keep going,” said an emotional Gangjee after his win.

Ajeetesh Sandhu, who finished in the tied-10th place, is in the news again as this column is being written. At the Caltex Maekyung Open underway in Seoul right now, Sandhu leads the field after an opening day four-under 68, while Shiv Kapur, winner of the Panasonic Swing—a season-ending race introduced last year on the Asian Tour—is in the seventh place. But who most Indian fans will be following is Jeev Milkha Singh, who has made it to the weekend. Sadly, Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa, who along with Singh formed the original trio of Indian golf, didn’t make it to the weekend. Singh’s career has been set back by injuries over the past couple of years, but he continues to be as popular in Japan and Korea as he is back in India—perhaps even more so, given the mass popularity of the game in these countries. Will we now see a resurgence from the indomitable Sikh? A last hurrah perhaps? That would be the stuff that dreams are made of. But those can come true… just ask Rahil Gangjee.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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