Lakshman Singh is a blur in sporting memory, but for a starry-eyed bunch comprising mostly teenagers, his 1982 exploits at the IX Asian Games in Delhi are worthy of aspiration.
The Indian golf team for the16th edition of the Asian Games, starting 12 November in Guangzhou, China, will seek to emulate Singh’s individual gold medal at the Delhi games 28 years ago. India also bagged the team gold at the event, a feat which has not been repeated since.
All set: The Indian golf team. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The medal made Singh a household name at the time. And he remains an idol, though he isn’t the only one to have won the individual gold. The last individual Asian Games gold for the country was won by Shiv Kapur in 2002 at Doha.
The Indian contingent of five men and four women for the coming Games was selected by the sport’s apex body in India, the Indian Golf Union (IGU), after a series of trials at the Jaypee Greens in Noida and the Karnataka Golf Association, Bangalore. It is being touted by many as one of the most talented teams ever to be sent for the Games, and is being coached by the respected Australian, Peter Murphy.
“For the first time, we have employed a coach long before the event begins,” says IGU president Ashit M. Luthra. “In addition to holding multiple camps with the players, he also accompanied the men’s team for the Singapore Open Amateur Tournament.”
The youngest in the side, 15-year-old Gurbani Singh, first wielded a golf club at the age of 6. She set the lowest carded score ever by an Indian at this year’s Queen Sirkit Cup in Hamilton, New Zealand.
“Romit Bose, my personal coach, has been there with me all the time, spurring me towards greater things. I’m looking forward to Guangzhou as an opportunity to experience competition at a high level. If indeed the team manages to do well, it will certainly be an added benefit for us,” says Gurbani Singh.
Another competitor, Shreya Ghei, has the credit of helping start a golf academy at Delhi’s Modern School, her alma mater. Noticing an interest in the game among students, the 17-year-old spoke to the principal and their combined efforts bore fruit in the form of a driving range and putting green at the campus in August. Vani Kapoor, the current No.1 among amateurs, and reserve player Shraddhanjali Singh complete the women’s team.
Barring Shraddhanjali Singh, who is from Jamshedpur, the other three are from Delhi, a reflection of the growing interest in the game in the Capital.
The star of the men’s team, and by far the most well-regarded of all players, Rashid Khan, 19, has let nothing come in the way of his golfing dreams. The highest-ranked amateur player in Asia, and ranked 18 in the world, Khan has raised medal hopes with his consecutive wins at the Faldo Series Asia championship in 2007 and 2008 in China.
“I am aware of the people’s expectations. Also, there is no doubt about the quality of competition with the Koreans and the Thais in the fray. I’m working hard on my game with Murphy, particularly my swing, and am confident of performing well at Guangzhou. I’m also trying to improve my physical fitness, for I have always considered mental toughness as my greatest strength,” says Khan, who won the trials for the Games’ team selection by a whopping 24 strokes.
Abhijeet Chadha, Rahul Bajaj, Abhinav Lohan and reserve player Ashbeer Saini complete the men’s team, which will also compete in the Eisenhower Trophy from 28 October in Buenos Aires, Argentina.