Indians look to raise the bar

Indians look to raise the bar

Golf : Lahiri, Chawrasia and Aditi will fancy their chances as the sport returns to Olympic fold

Indians look to raise the bar

Barring an odd event, a vast majority of the golfers hardly get a chance to represent their respective countries.

Tennis, a similarly rich global sport where athletes predominantly compete individually, at least has the Davis Cup and Fed Cup taking place annually that invoke patriotic sentiments. So when golf makes a return to the Olympics after 112 years, carrying the national burden would be new to many but not for two of the three Indian professionals in the fray.

Since 1982, golf has been a part of the Asian Games and Anirban Lahiri and Aditi Ashok have had the experience of competing in a multi-discipline extravaganza. Therefore, for Lahiri — a team silver medallist at the 2006 Doha Asian Games — and Aditi — a participant at the previous Asian Games — Rio will no doubt be a deja vu of sorts while for SSP Chawrasia, the Olympics will offer a chance to accomplish what he couldn’t by not being an amateur.

Of the three, there’s hardly any doubt that Lahiri will be leading the country’s hopes as he looks to add another accomplishment to his well planned career. Ever since his teenage years when he shifted base to Bengaluru to pursue his golfing dreams, Lahiri has been spoken about very highly. He was touted as the next big thing in Indian golf and following a somewhat sedate start to his professional career, the 29-year-old has just taken off in superb fashion to become the current flag-bearer of Indian golf.

Seven Asian Tour titles, two European Tour victories and a taste of all the four majors, last season’s Asian Tour Order of Merit champion is a genuine contender when players tee off at the Olympic Golf Course despite a moderate outing this year. Playing fully for the first time on the PGA Tour this season, he hasn’t set the stage on fire with just one top-10 finish so far and his show at the three Grand Slams completed has been average. He admitted that he had some work to do with his putting and tried to squeeze in some crucial mending work with coach Vijay Divecha prior to the British Open.

The opening round at the ongoing PGA Championship was a disaster but Lahiri surely will be feeling optimistic of his chances in Rio. Some of the big names have pulled out owing to Zika virus concerns and with enough top-level experience, he certainly has the game to lift golf’s fortunes further in the country.

Chawrasia, the ever-smiling golfer, has been a massive source of inspiration for all caddies who nurture hopes of challenging the gentlemen. A self-taught golfer whose father worked as a greenskeeper at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, Chawrasia is the classic rags-to-riches story. Quietly confident about his abilities, the affable Kolkatan caused a sensation in February 2008 when he won the Indian Masters. That victory inspired many caddies to take up golf as a career and today a healthy number can be seen competing on the domestic tour.

That magical performance apart, Chawrasia’s career though hasn’t blossomed in the way he would have hoped for. While he has scored two more European Tour victories and he triumphed once on the Asian Tour, the 38-year-old has struggled for consistency. However, SSP, as he is fondly referred to on the circuit, has found a second wind since last year. He lost out to Lahiri via play-off in the India Open last year but made amends by scoring a fine win in this year’s edition. He is slowly discovering his renowned short game and if he can fire on all cylinders at Rio, another fascinating story could be written.

Aditi, just 18 but oozing with talent, has risen in sensational fashion ever since she picked up a club as a kid. Right from her junior days, she has mostly competed in the higher age group categories and has beaten some established pros as an amateur.

The only Indian to win a Q-School — she aced the Ladies European Tour qualifier late last year — Aditi has scored several firsts on the course. Extremely determined and focussed, the disciplined teenager has often dished out golf that betrays her age. Spoken highly on the European Tour as well, she is slowly maturing into a world-class golfer. While the competition is extremely tough at Rio, Aditi showed what she is capable of when she won the Q-School.

Lahiri, Chawrasia and Aditi will be nursing major ambitions at Rio and why woudn’t they. Four solid rounds, as they’ve done it in the past, is all it takes to become the talk of the town.