CHENNAI: The annual golfing calendar is nearing the halfway mark. The going has been sedate for Indians if you are looking at established players like Anirban Lahiri, SSP Chawrasia and the number of titles won. The two are yet to register a top-10 finish, while a crown each for Shubhankar Sharma and Rahil Gangjee is all that others have to show for. Given that 2016 and 2017 had produced 11 Indian wins in Europe and Asia, this year has been low key so far.
However, a look at the near misses tells a different story. Gaganjeet Bhullar and Ajeetesh Sandhu were in touching distance of the title at an Asian Tour event in South Korea last week, where the former lost in a sudden death and the latter finished a stroke behind the leading group for tied fifth. Other than two wins, Indian men have recorded seven top-10 finishes this year. Sharma and Lahiri are in the top 100. There are two more in 200.
Notable shows this year
Shubhankar Sharma: Events 12, best 1, top-10 3
Rahil Gangjee: Events 5, best 1, top-10 1
Gaganjeet Bhullar: Events 8, best T2, top-10 2
Ajeetesh Sandhu: Events 8, best T5, top-10 2
Arjun Atwal: Events 8, best T10, top-10 1
Khalin Joshi: Events 5, best T5, top-10 1
It shows a rise in the number of Indians doing better at the international level. After Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa, it took some time for the next generation to shine outside home confines. Despite leader of that pack Lahiri not winning anything after 2015, seven Indians have topped the leader board since 2016. It’s a noticeable improvement in numbers in a country not known for producing winners consistently.
Players getting a competitive environment on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), benefitting from better coaching and equipment, role models emerging — various factors are responsible for this. One of them is a change in mindset. The current crop of Indian golfers play to win. Merely making the cut or breaking even is not what they are after.
“I was listening to some of the younger players on the PGTI circuit a few months back and all the talk centred around winning,” says Gangjee. “The younger lot is not ready to settle for anything else. And when everyone starts believing he can win, the average standard gets better. That’s why you see a surge in numbers. It’s a result of the new thought process.”
Thirty-nine and 15 summers old in the circuit, Gangjee is almost a generation older than the lot he is referring to. At 21, Sharma is already a leading figure in Asia. With two top-10s this year, Khalin Joshi is 25. Sandhu and Bhullar are around 30. Winner before 2016, Rashid Khan is 27. Struggling at the moment on the PGA Tour, Lahiri turns 31 in June. Never before did India have so many from this age group winning or coming close.
“In terms of coaching and guidance, youngsters these days are better off,” feels veteran Mukesh Kumar, who won an Asian title in 2016. “Coaches like Vijay Divecha in Bengaluru (Lahiri’s coach) are doing a good job. Because they have a proper support system in formative years, these kids are technically more accomplished when they come to the pro level.” It will be disappointing if this lot can’t better or match the haul of the last two years.