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Jeev Milkha Singh. Photo: Ahim Rani/Reuters
Jeev Milkha Singh. Photo: Ahim Rani/Reuters

A year in golf

2012 has been an interesting year for Indian golferswith small, but significant, victories for several players

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. This coming summer, Farhan Akhtar will give you an insight into India’s best-known athlete. The sneak peek of the biopic suggests that Akhtar has taken on the character. For starters, the resemblance (down to the hairdo) is uncanny. This is going to be interesting, and illuminating considering that Milkha Singh ran his best races more than half a century ago.

Like many, I wasn’t around that time but as a member of the same golf club in Chandigarh, I have caught glimpses of what must have been. On occasions, Milkha Singh would hit his shot and the runner in him would take over. It was a treat to watch him chase after the golf ball with those long, easy, elegant strides.

The son decided to go with golf and his unorthodox swing may not make as pretty a picture, but Jeev Milkha Singh has done well. There is a championship course outside Ahmedabad—Kensville Golf and Country Club—that carries his signature and he will be hosting a tournament, Shubhkamna Champions, in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, starting today, featuring India’s best golfing talent.

The focus, determination, fighting spirit have been passed on, traits which have come handy. Jeev acknowledged the good genes pretty early and as a tribute, decided to add on his father’s name.

Lack of form is part of playing a sport. Jeev, 41, has carried the added baggage of trauma to various body parts, something you wouldn’t associate with golf. The latest injury is to the right hand and it happened when he came down hard on a golf ball in the second round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in July this year. He won the tournament. That’s been the story. He’s learnt to play through pain and now he does it with a degree of flamboyance (and against medical advice).

In the clubhouse after a round of 67, Jeev went through a cup of tea and chocolate cake before going out again and beating Francesco Molinari in a play-off for his fourth European Tour title. The win came with presents. He broke back into the top 100 in the world (currently 96th), ended the European Tour season with €926,062, around 6.7 crore (32nd on the order of merit), and got into the British Open the week after, where he joined Anirban Lahiri.

Speaking of whom, what an experience for Lahiri. If the Bangalore boy was intimidated teeing it up with the world’s best at Royal Lytham & St Annes, he didn’t show it. Playing his first major after winning the Asian qualifier for the event, the 25-year-old finished tied 31st on three-over 283. That may not sound like much but factor in the golf course, the four seasons in one day (typical in that part of the world), the competition, and it’s a big deal for a greenhorn. He even had a hole-in-one in the third round. “If I can come here and hold my ground, I can hold it in any event and any field looking into the future," he said later. Jeev took a share of 69th place—the first time two Indians have gone the full distance in the same major.

India’s “major", the Hero Indian Open, travelled south to Lahiri’s city for the first time in the third week of October. Having won the SAIL-SBI Open on the Asian Tour in February and with his creditable British Open debut, he was among the frontrunners.

But the golfer who flew into Bangalore on a hot streak was Gaganjeet Bhullar who had come alive after a long period of indifferent golf, at least by his standards. Within the span of a month, Bhullar had won two events on the Asian Tour—the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in Chinese Taipei in mid-September and the Venetian Macau Open a few weeks later. Bhullar, 24, has always been an impressive ball-striker and this latest bit of fine-tuning comes from German coach Peter Wolfenstetter who has worked with Asian Tour stalwart Thongchai Jaidee for close to a decade.

In the end, it was the other Thai superstar, Thaworn Wiratchant, who won the Indian Open at the Karnataka Golf Association (KGA) course. Shiv Kapur was the best Indian in fourth place, and Lahiri came in a spot lower. Adding colour to the galleries at the KGA was local golfer Sharmila Nicollet who took a long stride on to the Ladies European Tour (LET) without much success in her first season there. She’s going to get another shot at it in 2013, coming through quite comfortably in the LET Q-school held in Morocco earlier this month.

The men are making themselves count on the Asian Tour with Digvijay Singh taking the Panasonic Open India at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) in April. Over the years, the DGC has produced quality players and this year, first and second on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) happen to be from that club. It’s hard to believe that Shamim Khan has been a professional golfer for 17 years… he looks about that old. He’s actually 34 years of age. Shamim is self-taught and doesn’t bother too much about his golf swing. Always cool and calm, he hits fairways with unnerving regularity, makes an occasional birdie and moves on. He’s made a few more birdies this year in his three wins. Shamim won the PGTI Players Championship in Pune in April and at the Classic Golf Resort (Gurgaon) before bagging the big one, the 1 crore BILT Open on his home course.

You would think two rounds of 64 should do it but Shamim was taken into a play-off by Rashid Khan, who also finished runner-up on the PGTI order of merit in his second year on tour. When congratulated, Rashid retorted, “Second doesn’t matter, only first does." Cocky little guy. Is this how our golfers are starting to think? I hope so.

Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.

Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com

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