The dinner table conversation veered towards an expected, but uncomfortable subject. “So, have you given some thought to what you want to do?” asked father. Mom looked on expectantly. Not really, I wanted to say. Why spoil a nice meal, I thought I’ll add. I had a good thing going and had no plans to change the arrangement but I chewed on the query briefly and then declared, “I want to be a professional golfer.”
Dad almost choked on the chicken and a worried look came over mom’s delicate face. “Professional golfer! Are you nuts? How are you going to put dal-roti on the table, let alone the chicken you’re tearing into now?” I did want to point out that the golfers I knew were making a few thousand rupees. What was more important was that they were attracting members of the opposite sex in healthy numbers. Those were college days and the hormones were playing havoc with the system. I toyed with the idea of presenting my case but chickened out.
Top dollar: The sport can be lucrative.
Now, I see golfers like Jeev Milkha Singh jetting around the world in flatbeds, making impressive cheques after just four days of doing something they love to do and, at times, I do wish I had not been lured by the chicken. I should have set my sights on the caviar! Even in Jeev’s case, despite coming from an impressive sporting lineage, parental consent didn’t come easy. In fact, Milkha Singh was dead against his son becoming a sportsman because he knew what it took to be a successful one. Blood and sweat. By the bucketloads. In comparison, a desk job was a walk in the park, and it came with a steady pay cheque. To Jeev’s credit, he stuck to his irons and went on to become a pioneer in his own right. Of course, when you look at the payouts, you do tend to overlook the years of hard work, struggle with form, coping with injuries, lots of heartbreak and frustration.
This package deal is not for the faint-hearted. You’ve got to sweat it out for your BMW. No bullshitting your way to the top here.
A little over two decades later, and there is almost a complete turnaround in the elders’ perception when it comes to golf as a career option. The same dinner table interaction would now go something like this…
Senior: “So, have you thought about what you’re going to do?”
Nerd: “Yes, papa… I’m going to be a computer engineer.”
Senior: “Don’t be an ass! How are you going to feed yourself? You’re going to be a golfer and that is final!”
Fame and fortune, the magic words. Throw in passion for the game and you have a winner on your hands. If Sachin Tendulkar didn’t enjoy his cricket, most of us wouldn’t know him. Similar is the case with golfers. Coming back to the incentives, they are a fairly recent development and a spin-off from a well-structured ladder. The domestic tour or the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) now offers over Rs 8 crore in prize money, and this does not include the dollar and euro events in India (Avantha Masters, Indian Open, Sail Open, among others, held jointly with the PGTI). There are four PGTI events (Tata Open, IndianOil XtraPremium Masters, CG Open and the yet-to-be-confirmed year-ending tournament) to go before the season comes to a close and 25th place on the order of merit has averaged about Rs 1 lakh per month in earnings. The leader has already pulled in over Rs 50 lakh.
If your golf is better, then you make dollars on the Asian Tour, where some of the events have as many as 20 Indians teeing up. Till recently, Kolkata’s S.S.P. Chowrasia was the order of merit leader there, winning almost half a million dollars, most of it from one win, the Avantha Masters, in February. The next rung is the Japan Tour, where Jeev and Jyoti Randhawa plied their trade for many years and with much success. Then, some of our players have leapfrogged into Europe. Led by Jeev, Shiv Kapur, Chowrasia and Randhawa are regulars there. The big daddy is the PGA Tour, the place of dreams and megabucks. Arjun Atwal has won in the US, so there is now a road map in place for his countrymen to follow provided they have the talent to fuel that journey.
Some time back a young mother walked in with a toddler to a golf course in Delhi. “I want my son to be a golfer,” she said to the teaching pro. “Sure,” said the coach, “but I feel he is a little too young right now.” The mother was not one to give up. “Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was 3. Why not my son?” Since Woods’ proficiency in another field came to the fore, the lady may choose not to use the same analogy again, but the fact remains that when it comes to prodding the progeny towards a career choice, golf figures way up there.
Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer. He will write a monthly column on golf.
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