This year, the Hero Women’s Indian Open will have the highest ever prize money ($500,000, or around 3.6 crore) and the biggest ever line-up in the history of Indian women’s golf—120 golfers are participating—signalling that the women’s game in India is coming of age. The domestic tour, now 20-women strong, has made golf a viable career option (with 1.25 crore in prize money disbursed over the 18 tournaments of the Hero Pro Tour every year). Increasing global exposure is helping the women’s game—four Indian golfers are playing in the qualifying school, organized by the US-based Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). For a sport that saw women’s participation at a pro event 27 years after the first men’s professional event in India, women’s golf is now a going concern. Ahead of the Hero Women’s Indian Open that starts in Gurugram on 18 October, Lounge takes a look at some of the best women golfers on the circuit:

Gursimar Badwal,25

She teed up at the Pahalgam golf course in the backdrop of Kashmir’s Lidder valley and turned pro in 2014. Since then, she has been present on the Order of Merit every year. Badwal won her maiden title in 2016 and has been playing regularly on the Hero Pro Tour. Currently fourth in the order of merit, she has had a good start to her 2018 earnings, clocking more than 8 lakh from two wins.

Badwal, from Kapurthala in Punjab, learnt golf from her father in her early teens. Even though her parents were both athletes in their youth, neither had taken up golf as a career. She learnt the game practising at the Rail Coach Factory course at Kapurthala (also the home course of Gaganjeet Bhullar), and then went to Chandigarh to have her technique honed by Jesse Grewal, whose academy is considered a nursery for young golfers. “Golf changed my life. It’s made me independent and different from many other women in this country," Badwal says. “Since I have turned professional, I have seen that a lot of other girls are coming and joining the tour and now there is good competition. The Women’s Golf Association of India (WGAI) and its tour has definitely made girls stay in the sport. That’s a huge thing."

Tvesa Malik, 23

India’s No.1 woman golfer according to the current order of merit, Malik had a dream start to her career in 2017, winning her very first pro tournament. Like Badwal, she followed her father to the golf course and was inspired by the green environs to take up the sport. This young girl from Haryana has had an eventful amateur career, taking part in the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Queen Sirikit Cup (the women’s team championship for the Asia-Pacific region) held in South Korea and China, respectively. “I haven’t been on the circuit for long but I have seen the scores and competition improve. There are more girls turning professional every year, which is great to see," says Malik.

Having seen many amateurs struggle to turn pro, Malik insists on the need for “making (golf) more accessible by providing more facilities and more clinics for beginners and children". All set to play the Hero Women’s Indian Open for the second time as pro, Malik would be looking to make the cut after missing out last time.

Afshan Fatima, 22

The Jaipur girl is the rising star on the women’s golf tour and grew up playing golf at the Rambagh course. Even though she faced resistance from some relatives when she took up the sport, Fatima has always had the support of her parents. “My father started playing golf and asked me to try. I took interest in it and then started playing well. I then thought I should turn it into a profession."

But despite being home to many golfers, the quality of coaching in Jaipur was not up to the mark, says Fatima. Her father’s financial troubles also forced Fatima to revisit her career plan. That’s when the WGAI came up to support her. “Now she gets free coaching and DLF provides for her lodging and use of facilities," says Champika Sayal, secretary general of the WGAI.

“My aim is to try and finish at the top of the Hero Order of Merit," says the golfer who turned pro in 2015 and has consistently improved her rank since. “I also want to head to the Ladies European Tour by 2022."

Amandeep Drall, 26

Winner of 12 tournaments on the domestic circuit, Amandeep Drall is considered the next big thing in Indian women’s golf. “She has won enough in India and now it’s time for her to graduate to the international scene. As the field gets stronger the girls have to raise their game," says Grewal.

Drall’s journey has been a mix of hits and misses and lack of funding. When she started out, she took part in golf camps organized by the army. Speaking about the lack of government support to the sport, Drall says, “It is definitely one of the major issues that we need to tackle because golf is an expensive sport and for so long the government has been supporting all the other sports but golf." Since she grew up in an army family, it was not difficult for her to access courses but it has been tough to keep up with the high travel and accommodation expenses.

Vani Kapoor, 26

She will lead the Indian challenge at the Hero Women’s Indian Open. She managed a top 10 finish in the 2017 edition and will be aiming to better it this year. Vani Kapoor spent 2017 consolidating her position on the Ladies European Tour. “I did better than I had expected. That was my best finish and my first top 10! I was glad I didn’t falter under pressure."

Although she is waiting for her first international win, she notched a victory on tour earlier in the year. As someone who turned pro much earlier than the others, in 2012, Kapoor has seen women’s golf grow significantly in India. But she rues the lack of attention and investment in the sport. “There isn’t much recognition for women golfers in India, apart from what the media does for us. Women golfers will do much better if there are better incentives."

Sharmila Nicollet and Neha Tripathi are both headed to play the second round of the LPGA qualifying school. If they qualify after three rounds, they will join Aditi Ashok on the LPGA, considered the most lucrative of all tours. Women’s golf in India is raising the bar with each tournament. But Sayal says it is important to lift the “elite" tag from the sport. “Athletics in India has always got mileage but golf for some reason has always been projected as an elite sport. I feel somewhere in the establishment they have not let golf come to the forefront as a result."

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