Announcing arrival

Golf

Announcing arrival

After clinching his maiden APGA title, Gaganjeet Bhullar has set his sights on making it to the European Tour. DH PHOTO/ Srikanta Sharma R

He is the latest addition to a growing list of Indian golfers who have achieved international success. Blessed with incredible talent backed up by hard work, the 21-year-old Gaganjeet Bhullar announced his arrival on the big stage when he clinched his maiden professional title at the Panchkula Golf Club this March. Since then, the Kapurthala lad has been on song, adding three more titles including an Asian Tour victory and drawing appreciation from even its chief Kyi Hla Han.

In this chat with Deccan Herald, the young pro shared his thoughts on his game, his plans and on realising his dream of playing a Major. Excerpts:

How does it feel on becoming the youngest Indian to win an Asian Tour title?

It feels very good and has earned me a lot of respect. Winning at Indonesia has given me a lot of responsibility and a sense of proudness. More doors have opened for me now and it also gives me an exemption from the first two stages of the European qualifying school.

You have been in the form of your life this season. Four victories and a runner-up spot after losing out in a play-off...

Everything is going the way I had visualised. My hard work is paying off. In fact, I played very well last year too but something kept going wrong in the third or final round. Luck too didn’t favour me either. But now, all that is off my mind and most importantly, I am playing really well during the weekends (the final two rounds) – which is the key. All my victories have been comeback ones. In all the tournaments I won, I wasn’t leading from word go but was always in contention. I am now able to close tournaments well, which I think is instrumental for my recent success.

So, are you handling pressure better now?

Not sure about that. But to win a tournament, it is not necessary to lead from the beginning. In Indonesia, I was seven shots off the pace after two rounds but I had a 62 in the third round which set me up nicely for the title. I believe the experience of playing on the Asian Tour has made be a better player. Apart from that, I think patience has played a huge role.

Winning is all about confidence. Do you think your maiden professional title this March has been the turnaround?

I always knew that I was going to win a title and play my dream tournament -- the British Open. It was just a matter of time. I was struggling a bit but after having played the OPen, things are becoming easier for me.

Talking about the British Open, what was the experience like?

It was great, something I had dreamt about since I was a child. The fans cheer every good shot, no matter if you are World No 1 or some unknown golfer. The media frenzy, top-line golfers, crowd support just pumps you up. It is very inspiring. And all this is not just limited at the playing course but even at the driving range or practise area. It is an experience worth more than a million dollars and I am happy to have earned it.

So, how is it on the course?

I played with the PGA Tour’s James Driscoll. Although he too did not play well, I learned a lot about the PGA Tour and something called ‘course management’. What we play in Asia is different compared to US and Europe. In Asia, it is target golf, where one drives the focus primarily in reaching the target. But in Europe and US, golfers make use of the conditions like tail wind, slope, head wind to their benefit. I am optimistic about my European venture.

Have you added something extra to your game?

I think I am hitting my iron shot well. I was studying my statistics and I noticed that I am hitting the green regulations accurately on an average 14-15 as compared to 12-13.
So roughly I am saving four shots per tournament, which makes a lot of difference, especially on the Asian Tour. I have improved technically and when I step on to a course, I feel relaxed and happy.

Are you working with a coach or any senior pro currently?

Not all. I have been working on my swing on my own for the last five years. Just the exposure of playing so many tournaments make you feel confident.

Golf in India is blossoming very nicely after the exploits of Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal. Your comments…

Thanks to the trio, Indian golf is recognised worldwide. It makes the task for my generation easier. Also, the media has played a big role in taking golf to new heights. Earlier, accessibility to a course was the biggest problem but now, a lot of new courses are coming up, paving the way for change.

When can one see Bhullar playing in the PGA – the king of all tours?

Currently, my focus is to pass the final round of European qualifying school in Spain in late November. Hopefully, if I qualify, I will get more opportunities to play on the European circuit, which will fetch me valuable world ranking points as I don’t get much on the Asian Tour. A good show in Europe will push me directly into the final stage of PGA qualifying school. I guess it’s just a matter of time.

Finally, what are the targets for this season?

Firstly, I would want my name on the European tour. Doing well in the upcoming big events like the Singapore Open, Hong Kong Open and the tournament in Switzerland is what my immediate focus is. To play consistent good golf is my main motto.

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