Gingerly. That’s how players at the ongoing Hero Indian Open have been tackling the Gary Player layout—hosting its first international men’s professional tournament—at the DLF G&CC. If the unfamiliar undulations of the fairways, and precipitous slopes of the greens, weren’t challenge enough, the swirling winds this week, emboldened even further by sporadic thunderstorms have made life rather difficult for the field at the tri-sanctioned IGU-European-Asian Tour event.
On Saturday morning, as this column is being written, the rain continues to pelt down, and it’s unlikely that the second round will recommence at 7 am—over half the field is yet to finish after a three-hour lightning delay on Friday. As things stand going into the money rounds, the 2017 Hero Indian Open may well turn out to be the sternest test of golf at the event in recent years and, barring a near miracle, the cut is likely to be well over par.
This was expected: the Gary Player layout is untested, and akin more to parkland courses in Europe rather than tracks in this part of the world. ‘Home advantage’ is non-existent (except in the case of the young Shubhankar Sharma who’s got more rounds under his belt at this layout than any other pro in the field). Ergo, everyone has struggled—no one more so than Jeev Milkha Singh who shot a 13-over 85 in the first round. And yet, inspite of shooting what must be his worst competitive round ever, Singh displayed his class by teeing it up again on Friday.
You may also like to watch:
So it’s an open field, anyone’s game, so to speak, but in that unbiased stacking of odds, the player who has the ability to grind it out; the one with patience, and an unwavering conservative strategy will have the edge. That could well be a description of defending champion SSP Chawrasia, who in addition to those attributes also possesses the ability, on a good day, to sink putts from anywhere.
In the first round, the Kolkatan started, like everyone else, tentatively. “I was a little scared, this is a new course, a tricky course, but I’m happy with a level par to start with,” he said after his first round. Chawrasia’s strategy prioritises not shooting a bad number over shooting a great one and his even-par first round was a lesson in placement and strategy but he just couldn’t get the putter going. Friday was a different story: “My putter was hot today. I converted from 25 feet and 20 feet on the fifth and eighth, respectively. I also had a 40-45 foot conversion on the 14th. The main difference between yesterday and today’s round was that the putts rolled in today unlike yesterday. I’m happy to be bogey-free today. It’s quite an achievement to play bogey-free here,” he added after signing off for a blemish-free five-under 67 on the second day to take the clubhouse lead.
As expected, the leaderboard this year is not stacked with Indian players as is usually the case when the event is held at the Delhi Golf Club. But no one expected just one Indian under par—Chawrasia is also the only countryman in the top 10. Jyoti Randhawa and Rashid Khan (currently at one-over par) are in tied 20th position.
Marquee names amongst the international contingent have struggled too: Matteo Manassero, the Italian prodigy who’s struggled the last few years, showed why he was considered one of the game’s brightest prospects as a teenager by taking the lead after the first round with a four-under 68. At the time of writing this column, Manassero had dropped two shots in his second round, with seven holes left to play. The Englishman David Horsey was in second place all by himself on the back of an exceptional six-under 66 in the first round. The top-ranked player in the field, Rafa Cabrera Bello is yet to break par at the Gary Player course. Shubhankar Sharma, the youngster who many, including this writer, had billed as India’s top contender at the event, shot a solid even-par first round but has dropped a trio of shots on the second day. Literally anything can happen over the weekend, and there’ll be a much clearer picture of who’s likely to make a run for the title by the time you read this column. From what we’ve seen over the first couple of days, everything depends on how hard the course is set up over the weekend; given that, the hare has no chance really, the tortoise is likely to win this one.
At this point, there are few who’ll bet against Chawrasia’s successful defense of the Open: not only does he have a stellar record at the event with one win and four runner-up finishes, but he also got the monkey off his back by winning his first Asian Tour event outside India in 2016. After his European Tour victory at the Avantha Masters in 2011, Chawrasia grinded it out on the European Tour—a decision which many questioned—with little success but lots of persistence. If he does go on to win this weekend, then it’ll be a vindication of his game’s caliber, forged in difficult conditions during that period while playing in Europe. Chawrasia has won in India; he’s won in Asia; he’s won both Asian and European Tour tournaments; this is a world-class player we’re talking about. And now, on a truly international course, he’s all set to put that argument to rest.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game