CHENNAI: It's been over six months since Ajeetesh Sandhu became a winner on the Asian Tour and a regular on golf courses across the continent. His travel-play-travel routine is like those of hundreds others who compete in this circuit, with a difference. Unlike most of them, the Chandigarh pro goes to bed thinking how he is going to sustain this.
Sandhu belongs to that rare breed of golfers to have tasted success at the international level, who doesn't have a sponsor. After winning his maiden Asian title in Chinese Taipei last October he expected the situation to change, but it hasn't. He is still relying on prize money and expenses have risen since he has started travelling with his Japanese caddie.
Playing 25 tournaments in Asia and Europe in a year costs above Rs 50 lakh. Travel, lodging, food and caddie fees are the major expenses. Most players who figure in the top-10, including several Indians, have sponsors who take partial or full care of bills. Those who play more events in Europe spend more. For Sandhu, prize money is the only source.
"Not that I think of it all the time, but it's difficult to be completely on your own," Sandhu told Express from Sicily, where he is playing in the Rocco Forte Open. "Missing out on the qualifying tournaments for bigger tournaments because of money hurts. The PGA Tour has three qualifying stages and getting there without funding is the biggest hindrance. The place I'm in now in the outskirts is cheaper. Otherwise, every week is expensive."
A late bloomer, the 29-year-old is using earnings as investment. A profitable 2017 when he bagged second position twice and third once other than the win, fetched him around Rs 1.42 crore. Two top-10 finishes this year have taken his 2018 tally to Rs 58 lakh. Sandhu has to plan and spend judiciously to keep alive his dream of becoming a regular on top tours. "Expectations are higher after last year and I'm going to play more on the European and Japanese Tours apart from Asia. I'm completely focussed on my game and not distracted by anything when playing. It can obviously be better, but this year has been satisfactory so far. Only problem is, things sometimes have to be done at the last minute because of the uncertainty," said the World N0 185, who has jumped over 1000 places in the last two years.
Having chosen the difficult path, the journey might spring more uncertainties. But that's how Sandhu wants it to be. As long as he is hitting the ball alright, he will manage. After that, whatever will be, will be.