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    An increase in amateur and pro players makes Bengaluru the home of golf.

    ONCE regarded as a game dominated by North India and retired folk, golf is fast changing that belief, and is turning into the fastest growing sport in the country, with Bengaluru leading the parade. Former KGA president and director at Touche Golf Sports, Dr Rohit Shetty echoes those sentiments. “The home of golf was Calcutta. But unfortunately as many people do, the golfers too left the city in pursuit of better things. Then Chandigarh became the capital. But it started being considered an elitist game there. People who excelled went abroad on scholarships, and dropped the sport once there. It is tough, so there was no one to follow through back home,” explains Shetty. Agreeing, Karnataka Golf Association’s Hon. Secretary, Sandeep Madhavan R, explains that the spotlight now is indeed on Bengaluru. Madhavan feels the city brought the sport from elites to the masses by opening up their facilities to to the game, without needing parents to be members of the club. “If a child has a valid school or college ID, I will give them instant access to the course and driving range for just Rs 3,000,” shares Madhavan, elaborating that currently, a whopping 15 pro golfers and over 50 amateurs represent the South on the circuit. What has also driven the city to the top spot is a burst of ‘new-age parents’, as Shetty calls them, encouraging kids to take up the sport. “South Indians were more education oriented. That has changed and now they’ve opened up to other possibilities. Being a sports person is now acceptable,” affirms Madhavan. Just last month, home girl, Aditi Ashok won the prestigious St Rule Trophy at St Andrews Links becoming the only Asian to do so. With focus shifting away from cricket, players are being given sponsorship (not nearly enough) and prize money has made golf a viable career. We catch up with the city’s Woods and Annika Sörenstam in the making.

    Syed Saqib Ahmed
    Age: 21 | Home turf: KGA

    Introduced to the game by his father, Syed Saqib Ahmed says he was glued to watching the sport, long before he actually picked up a club. “I used to sit up watching golf all night since the age of five and that was the time Tiger Woods was peaking in his game,” claims Ahmed. “Some of my best memories were watching him win tournaments and that really inspired me to take up the sport because I wanted to turn pro myself and IEV4414win tournaments,” he starts, elaborating that he eventually began to play the sport when he was seven, before his first event at eight. “My first win was when I was nine and ever since then, I’ve had the opportunity to play all over India and also had the privilege of representing India in countries like Dubai, Australia, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, China and Sri Lanka,” he tells us. Apart from that, he credits the game with teaching him a lesson everyday. “Golf has taught me to be honest. You count your own score and admit your mistake to the referee if you make one. The beauty of the game is that if you cheat, it’s no fun,” Ahmed says.
    Counting patience and positivity among other lessons he’s learned, the 21-year-old says everything about the game is worth falling in love with. “People spend millions to feel the adrenaline rush I feel every time I play a round of golf,” he tells us. Turning pro in January, his first victory came in Ooty when he won by one. Giving up a ‘normal teenage life’ though has been one of Ahmed’s life challenges.

    Off course
    Golfing greats: Tiger Woods and my father. He is a keen golfer and every time I play with him, I always learn something new
    Happiest playing in: My Superman underwear
    Dream course: St Andrews. And I’m getting to play there soon!

    Sharmila Nicollet
    Age: 24 years | Home turf: Karnataka Golf Association

    India’s jewel when it comes to women golfers, Sharmila Nicollet is the highest ranked professional in the country. The 24-year-old began playing when she was 11 and joined the American Junior Golf Association camp at the Karnataka Golf Association ‘for fun’. Training five times a week for over six hours each day, the Indo-French lass says her talent for the game was evident very early on apparently. “It’s an individual sport. You play against yourself and the course. I also love nature and being able to play and practice around it is amazing. It is with some hardwork I have reached here,” says the self-proclaimed geek, who hopes to some day win the prestigious Evian Masters.
    Her most treasured lesson on the golf course is that it teaches humility. The Tiger Woods fan tells us that while she has no real pre-tournament routine, she is tournament ready everyday. “My daily routine gets me ready for competition. That’s the way I design my practice schedules. A good mix of high and low intensity practice does the trick,” she says. Nicollet approaches a new course by studying it and by playing multiple practice rounds, taking notes and making a strategic plan for the week. “The most consistent part of golf is its inconsistency! The challenge for me is to accept that fact and focus on how I can get better each day,” Nicollet shares.

    Off course
    Dream turf: St Andrews
    Career highlight: Representing India in the Asian Games and qualifying for the Ladies European tour
    Life lesson learnt: The value of hard work and practice and winning or losing with dignity and humility

    Aditi Ashok
    Age: 17 years | Home Turf: Bengaluru Golf Club

    AditiThe youngest and perhaps the brightest star at the moment, Aditi Ashok is a a real multitasker, what with coaching, tournaments and the dreaded final exams always looming over her head. But a focused young thing despite her few years, Ashok’s love affair with the sport began when she was just five and a half years old. “My journey started when my parents and I walked into the golf club for the first time. I instantly fell in love with the game and wouldn’t leave the putting green for the next two hours,” she begins, adding that having taken to golf at a young age, she enjoyed playing it competitively and started winning tournaments, even going on to represent team India since the age of 12.
    “I like the fact that golf is an individual sport and that it teaches you a lot in life like honesty, patience, focus and etiquette,” she says, recalling her first win when she was just nine. “It was the All India Ladies Amateur in Eagleton. I played in the Bronze category (24-36 handicap) and it was my first national win. I wanted to make it a habit,” Ashok recounts, and she certainly has followed through on that.
    Coaching with Steven Giuliano, Malaysia and working on strength and conditioning with Nicolas Cabaret, France, Ashok is the only Indian golfer (male or female) to have played the Asian Youth Games, Youth Olympic Games and Asian Games. She is also the first Indian and only Asian to win the St Rule Trophy in 2015 at St Andrews Links – a major victory in her many accolades. But not one to get carried away with medals, the grounded girl says a good start helps keep her calm. Plus, time management, a lesson the India Ladies Number One says she learned from the sport.

    Off course
    Favourite sportsperson: Tennis player, Roger Federer
    Top inspiration: Golfer Severiano Ballesteros
    Dream win: US Women’s Open Career highlight: Winning  the St Rule Trophy at St Andrews

    Anisha Padukone
    Age: 24 years  |
    Home turf: Eagleton Golf Resort

    With Prakash Padukone for a father and Deepika Padukone for
    a sister, you’d think that Anisha Padukone would have to play catch up. But the sassy 24-year-old went and carved a niche on the course, and started
    playing golf when she was 12. “I started playing golf because my father had to put in a few scorecards in order to get membership at KGA. He asked me to come along one day to see if I enjoyed it. I was hooked right away,” she begins, adding that she now lives at The Eagleton Golf Resort, and trains weekdays with coach Vijay Divecha. Choosing golf because everyday a new lesson can be learned, Anisha is of the opinion that apart from hot days and tedious courses, consistency is the toughest part in golf. “You could be playing so well one day that you feel you can compete with the best in the world and the next day you may feel like quitting the sport! Nothing is certain in golf,” says the amateur player. While she knows that competition is important, Anisha believes she plays her best when she’s trying to enjoy. “You have to take it one moment at a time and enjoy the process more than anything. That’s what we practice for, to try and be as consistent as possible as the variable factors are very high. You cant predict weather conditions, the course layout, where your ball will end up lying,” she tells us, adding that in retrospect she feels like she hasn’t achieved her potential. “I have a long way to go and I know that the best has not happened yet. I am capable of much more and that is what I’m working towards,” she signs off.

    Starting young

    In Chennai, the TNGF Cosmo Golf Club organises classes for children every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The minimum age to sign up is six. With six certified trainers and a fitness trainer who teaches the children functional skills, they follow the teaching methods of Americas Titleist Performance Institute.
    “This focuses on biomechanical movements instead of just exercises that can get boring for children,” says head coach Jayanan Satagopal. Open to both members and non members, there are two categories of classes: under eight at Rs 1,500 per month and  nine to 18 at Rs 2,500 per month. The classes are held all year round and have nearly 20 children learning each day. Details: 9840899622

    Khalin Joshi
    Age: 22 years | Home Turf: KGA

    Just a month away from his 23rd birthday, and Khalin Joshi struts on the course like he’s been there forever. And really, he has. Following his uncle Rajesh Joshi around on the grounds of KGA since he was hardly three, Khalin then took up golf when he was just four years old. “My uncle was my inspiration and my reason to love the game of golf,” says the youngster, who started by playing club tournaments then played the Indian Golf Union junior and sub-junior tournaments across the country. Soon he turned amateur and represented India in tournaments outside the country. He turned professional three years ago, and currently holds the third spot of the Rolex Ranking for Professional Golf of 06BV40India.
    Khalin tells us that a round is going well for him, if the people playing with him are good. “For me, who I am playing with matters a lot and that helps me to play a good round,” he tells us. Not a big fan of the driving range, he’d rather go out and play a full round. “I try and spend a fair bit of time on my short game. Warming up before the start of every day is a must, ” shares the winner of the Ahmedabad Masters, earlier this year.
    Tackling a tournament day and a practice session in the same way, Khalin aims to keep his cool no matter what. “I’ve realised over a period of time that a practice round and a tournament should be treated in a similar manner. I try and get the same feeling during a tournament week which helps me to perform at ease,” he says.

    Off course
    If not a golfer: I think, I’d have taken over my family business.
    Favourite course: As of now, a course called Natadola Bay in Fiji.
    Dream course: Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, USA
    Life lesson learnt: Gratitude and humility

    Pics: Vinod Kumar T
    Location: Karnataka Golf Association
    m aakanksha@newindianexpress.com

    Aakanksha Devi

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