It’s perfect weather for a good swing. And the next edition of the Hero Indian Open golf, starting Thursday, promises to be a battle of the titans.
In its 53rd year, the national event has a solid Indian field that is not just in form but has been displaying a winning streak this past season. The tournament, which began in 1964, has become India’s most prestigious event, turning the global spotlight on golf. It’s an opportunity for domestic talent to shine.
The prize purse has been enhanced from $300,000 (around Rs2 crore now) in 2005 to $1.75 million, almost six times more.
Defending champion S.S.P. Chawrasia and 2015 winner Anirban Lahiri, both of whom will be playing in the tournament, are not only India’s favourite golfers but also dear friends. The contest will be watched closely because the tournament has moved to a brand new (and treacherous) golf course. Traditionally, the tournament has been played at the Delhi Golf Club; this year it will be held at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurugram.
Chawrasia, 38, is a five-time Asian Tour winner and seems untroubled by the fact that he will be teeing up at a different venue for this year’s defence. For the Gary Player-designed DLF course, with its parkland look, has forced golfers to think of creative strategies.
“This time, it’s going to be a different course and it may have a different feel. However, I’m still excited and looking forward to defending my title," says Chawrasia.
“I’ve played at DLF previously but it’s now a totally different layout. It’s going to be new for everyone and I’m sure the set-up will be good. I’ve heard it’s a tricky course."
Lahiri, 29, believes this will ensure a more level playing field. “I would say it would not be as India-dominated now compared to if the event was held at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC), which is a narrow course flanked by forest areas and short distances to the greens. DLF is more parkland and more like the European-style courses."
Could that mean a more diverse leaderboard? “It’s going to be more open, not as demanding off the tee as with the DGC. You might not see a leaderboard littered with Indian names," says Lahiri.
India’s Arjun Atwal has memories that he would want to relive with the 2017 Hero Indian Open. For it’s the tournament which propelled him to stardom nearly 20 years ago, when he claimed his maiden Asian Tour victory in 1999.
In 2003, Atwal became Asia’s No.1 player and was the first golfer to break the $1 million barrier in career earnings on the Asian Tour. He also became the first Indian golfer to win on the PGA Tour.
“It’s fun as you get to play in front of family and friends. I’ve won at the old course at DLF a long time ago and it’s a brand new course now. It’s going to be a challenging test as the greens are undulating," says Atwal.
Four of the youngsters in the field, aged 20-24, have been champions of the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) tour (India’s own tour for professional golfers) and are now looking for their breakthrough at what’s a co-sanctioned event by the Asian and European Tours.
S. Chikkarangappa, 23, has two Asian Development Tour titles. Shubhankar Sharma, 20, held the spotlight for some time at the recently concluded Malaysia Maybank Open. Khalin Joshi, 24, has more than a couple of wins on the domestic tour while Honey Baisoya, 20, is gearing up for a maiden appearance.
Chikkarangappa has been consistent on the Indian Tour, having finished in the top 6 of the PGTI Order of Merit in each of the four years since he turned pro in 2013. He won it in 2015 and came second in both 2013 and 2014. He has been dividing his time between the Indian and Asian Tours to keep his Asian Tour card. He has five Asian Tour top-10 finishes besides two Asian Development Tour wins, both in Bengaluru, where he comes from.
Shaili Chopra is the founder of Golfingindian.com and India Golf Awards.