Aditi Ashok: Target in line on the fairway
Aditi Ashok, India’s teen golf sensation, has managed four top 10 finishes, an Olympic berth and the Women’s Indian Open title, all in her rookie year. The next target is to be part of the LPGA
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One her website, Aditi Ashok writes: “Aditi (a-di-ti) is of Sanskrit origin and its meaning is ‘boundless’. And this 18-year-old has certainly given ample testimony of her ‘boundless’ talent by becoming the first Indian woman to win a Ladies European Tour title, clinching the Hero Women’s Indian Open in Gurgaon earlier this month. She first played this tournament as a 13-year-old, and within a span of just five years has managed to script history.
“Getting this first big tournament win in the rookie year (she turned professional this year) is always hard,” says Ashok, her measured tones belying her young age. “Once I got it (the Women’s Indian Open win) there was a mixture of acceptance and relief. I was now part of a winner’s circle. I now know my best is not lacking, if I play my best, I can win again.”
Ashok started playing golf when she was five-and-a-half years old, following her parents on the golf course. Very soon, the course was hers. She started competing in tournaments when she was just seven and recorded her first win when she was nine. There have been sacrifices aplenty: junk food and aerated water went off her diet when she was six. “There were times when I was missing the regular things my friends would do,” she says. “Golf does take up a lot of time. But I really enjoyed playing golf, I made friends on tour and soon was having fun with them in a different way: playing golf.
“Golf is a slow sport, but what attracted me was its individual nature. Everyday is different: the grass is different, the course is different and you never play the same shot twice. This made me want to keep going back and play.”
Ashok first represented India when she was 12 at the Asia-Pacific Invitational tournament, where the normal age range for making the cut is between 18 and 22. Accolade after accolade followed. She was 13 when she recorded her first professional win on the Indian professional tour, a win that instilled in her the belief that her game was good enough to make the cut at the professional level. Ashok is a three-time National Junior champion (2012-14) and a two-time National Amateur champion (2011, 2014) and is the only Indian golfer to have played the Asian Youth Games (2013), Youth Olympic Games (2014) and Asian Games (2014). She won the St Rule Trophy as well as the Lawson Trophy (awarded for the lowest aggregate by an Under-18 players) at St Andrews Links in 2015. In the same year, she finished second at the International European Ladies Amateur Tournament and went onto become the first Indian to win the Ladies British Amateur Open Stroke Play, securing the Nicholls Trophy (overall title) and Dinwiddy Trophy (for the lowest score by an Under-18 player). In December last year, Ashok secured her Ladies European Tour Card for the 2016 with an emphatic birdie that helped her win the Lalla Aicha Tour School Final Qualifier. With this victory, Ashok became the first Indian to win a Qualifying School event for an international tour. She turned professional in January, ending her amateur career (on 31 December 2015) as World. No 11 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Best Indian Amateur and Best Asian Amateur.
And if Ashok’s amateur career went from strength to strength, her rookie year, so far, has been a resounding success. Four straight top 10 finishes, the only Indian woman golfer at the Rio Olympics, where she held her own for two rounds, even briefly sharing the lead, before things went awry. And then of course, the Indian Open win. “My biggest learning so far has been that everyone’s game is different and cannot be compared,” she explains. “It’s important to keep playing and find your optimum; and what is equally important is how I prepare leading up to the tournaments in terms of being able to practice and then go out and play my game.”
Ashok, who idolizes Annika Sörenstam, one of the most successful female golfers in history, says her short game is her biggest strength. “I wasn’t very strong as a young kid, so I focused really hard on my putting.” She is working hard on her fitness in a bid to hone her driving. “Even as a kid my driving was accurate, I just need to improve on the distance.”
Maheshwari, Ashok’s mother, who also doubles up as her manager, believes her daughter’s disciplined nature has played a key role in her success. “Aditi has always been strong mentally,” she says, “and has been able to treat both success and failure with the same attitude. She is extremely hard-working and is able to focus on her goal with unwavering attention.”
So what is next on the horizon for Ashok? The Indian Open win pivoted her to the top of the table for the Rookie of the Year award—something she had set her eyes on at the start of the year—with still two LET tournaments to go, in Qatar and Dubai. Sandwiched between these two events is the Final Stage Qualification for the LPGA tour. To be part of the LPGA, playing with the world’s best, has been Ashok’s childhood dream. Only the top 20 players make the cut and Ashok is determined to be one of them.
This has been a landmark year for Indian women in the international sporting arena, and Ashok is glad to have played a role in it. “When I was 10, there were only around four other girls my age playing this sport,” she says. “Today there are around 20 at the national level. Hopefully, my win at the Indian Open as a an 18-year old will motivate a lot of other girls to take up this sport and believe they too can achieve this.”