2017: The year of reckoning for Indian golf
Golfing great Arnold Palmer said in 2014 that he expected the next big golf sensation to come from Asia. If the last 12 months are anything to go by, Palmer’s “Asian” could very well turn out to be an Indian. The year has been a pointer to not just how good Indian golfers have become, but how they can also win consistently.
On 31 December, Shiv Kapur picked up his third Asian Tour win of 2017, at the $500,000 (around Rs3.20 crore) Royal Cup in Thailand. This was after he made a strong comeback following a liver surgery and six months on the sidelines by winning the Yeangder Heritage in Taiwan in April.
But winning the Panasonic Indian Open in November is what he might put down in the scrapbook as his most cherished memory of the year. At the Delhi Golf Club, the 33-year-old fired just when it mattered and realized a treasured dream.
Shubhankar Sharma, 21, made the biggest statement of the season by winning the Joburg Open in South Africa in December, becoming the first Asian to do so. The win not only gave Sharma access to the European Tour for 2018 with a full card to play, but also assured him of a place in one of the majors, The Open Championship.
Sharma was not quite done there—he snatched victory in the penultimate round of the Rs1.5 crore McLeod Russel Tour Championship 2017 in Kolkata just before Christmas. In a play-off between him and Rashid Khan, Sharma took the trophy to close a dream season, which saw him win three titles (the first being the TAKE Solutions Open in October in Bengaluru).
For Gaganjeet Bhullar, 2017 was important not just because he got married but also because he made a comeback to the sport and picked up a win at the Macao Open in October, his second there. The 29-year-old now lives and trains in Sacramento in the US to make improvements to his game, some of which have already started to show on the course.
Underdog Ajeetesh Sandhu emerged as a budding champion after winning at the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship (TPC) in October in Taipei. He became just the second player to win an Asian Tour event without a full tour card. The very next week, he won in Japan at the Taiheiyo Club Challenge. Those two wins make him a player to watch out for in the forthcoming season.
S.S.P. Chawrasia bagged the Manila Masters trophy in November. In March, it was the 39-year-old’s courageous defence of the Hero Indian Open title at the DLF Golf Course that cemented his “Chip-putt-sia” nickname—a nod to his ability to chip and putt his way to victory.
Among the women, 19-year-old Gaurika Bishnoi topped the Hero Women’s Order of Merit. She played 15 tournaments and won one title. Next up were Amandeep Drall and Neha Tripathi, both of whom finished the year well, picking up two and three wins, respectively.
It was a strong 2017 for Aditi Ashok as well, who finished ranked No.82. The 19-year-old won the Fatima Bint Mubarak Open title in November and finished tied fifth at the Omega Championship in Dubai in December.
Anirban Lahiri, who joined the PGA Tour full-time in 2016, has since played well across a variety of tournaments on what’s the world’s most well-funded tour. In 2017, he had three top-10 finishes, including a T2 at the Memorial Tournament organized by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. He was the Presidents Cup captain for 2017 and also competed at the EurAsia Cup from 12–14 January.
In 2016, Chawrasia, Lahiri and Aditi competed in Rio de Janeiro, garnering larger attention for golf in India, at a time when the sport was reintroduced in the Olympics. 2017 proved that India not only has the talent, but can produce winners too.
Golf in 2018, for one, should see more diversity in victories and tournaments. But, importantly, it will be a test of Indian players’ ability to convert their form into consistency and take on the world-class majors.
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