December 17, 2016 3:05:32 pm
A teenaged Aditi Ashok rose from obscurity to take Indian golf scene by storm even as seasoned professionals went through their usual crests and troughs in a reasonably good year for the sport, which returned to the Olympic fold after more than a century.
The 18-year-old Aditi was the brightest star on the Indian golfing horizon this year and was fittingly named the Ladies European Tour’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ for becoming the first Indian to win two back-to-back titles in her first year on the tour.
Among the men, it was a bitter-sweet experience for Anirban Lahiri but SSP Chawrasia and Gaganjeet Bhullar’s return to form with twin titles ensured that India continued it’s rapid rise on the course.
After savouring unprecedented success last year, Lahiri continued to juggle between Asia, US and Europe and achieved the unique distinction of becoming the first Indian along with Chawrasia to play at the Rio Olympics.
The poster-boy of Indian golf had a topsy-turvy year where he twice came close to winning titles at the Macau Open and CIMB Classic in October but was denied a victory twice by sheer misfortune. He finished second and tied 3rd in the two tournaments respectively.
In Macau, Lahiri birdied the last seven holes on the final day but still lost in the playoff after finding a water hazard, while at Kuala Lumpur, the Indian star took a four-shot lead into the final round but a wild tee shot saw him make a quadruple bogey.
The Bangalore golfer had almost defended his Hero Indian Open title early in the season but eventually lost to the brilliance of a certain Chawrasia, who pulled off a two-shot win at the USD 1.66 million tri-sanctioned event to secure his European Tour card for three years.
It was Chawrasia’s third European Tour win and the fourth on the Asian Tour and riding on this performance, the diminutive Kolkata golfer eventually qualified for the Olympics.
The 38-year-old, who also played at the EurAsia Cup and World Cup of Golf this year, notched up his second title of the season when he clinched the Resorts World Manila Masters crown — his first Asian Tour title outside the country — in November.
Chipputtsia, as he is lovingly called, however, struggled in the European Tour and his best finish was a tied 27th at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
It turned out to be a comeback year for Gaganjeet Bhullar as well as he recorded his sixth Asian Tour triumph at the Shinhan Donghae Open after overcoming a five-shot overnight deficit.
The 28-year-old Bhullar, who has been going through a rough patch after injuring his wrist two years back, also pipped compatriot Jeev Milkha Singh to win the USD 300000 Indonesia Open for the second time in his career last month.
The Kapurthala golfer, who has won five times on the Asian Tour prior to 2016, recaptured his place inside the top 10 of the Order of Merit, riding on the two title wins.
While golf in India is primarily dominated by men, it was the meteoric rise of Aditi which made this a watershed year for women’s golf in India.
The lanky Bangalore golfer, who became the first Indian to win the Lalla Aicha Tour School and secure her Ladies European Tour card, became an overnight star after she grabbed the lead for a brief period at the Rio Olympics.
After making her professional debut at the Australian Oates Victorian Open, Aditi soon posted four consecutive top-10 finishes on the LET.
She continued her rampaging run and became the first Indian woman to win on the European ladies tour when she clinched the Women’s Indian Open title in Gurgaon and then picked up a second title two weeks later at the Qatar Ladies Open to finish the season second on the Order of Merit.
Aditi also achieved partial playing rights on the LPGA after finishing tied 24th in the qualifying tournament at Florida.
Young golfer Arjun Prasad also claimed a remarkable come-from-behind victory in the 10th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final to become the third Indian to win tournament, joining Rashid Khan and Abhijit Chadha.
Among others, Shiv Kapur had a chance to win his first title in 11 years when he was leading after the third round of Panasonic Open Golf Championship at Japan but early errors in the fourth round saw him sign off fifth. The Delhi golfer had another top 10 finish at the Hero Indian Open.
Even though he didn’t win any title, Rahil Gangjee had a good year overall as he made four top 10 finishes this season. He signed off tied ninth at Maybank Championship Malaysia, before earning a tied 10th place finish at Indian Open.
The Kolkata golfer also finished tied seventh at AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open and Venetian Macao Open. However, Gangjee failed to secure his Eupopean Tour card after finishing tied 37th at Qualifying School last month.
Young golfer S Chikkarangappa also secured his Asian Tour card for the upcoming season with a career-best tied third finish at Macau Open and also played at the World Cup of Golf after Anirban Lahiri pulled out.
He had three more top 10 finishes this season, signing off at tied 4th at bangladesh Open, ninth at Mercuries Taiwan Masters, Indonesian Masters early in the year.
On a comeback trail, veteran golfer Jeev Milkha Singh also had three top 10 finishes — True Thailand Classic (Tied 7th), King’s Cup (tied 10th) and BANK BRI-JCB Indonesia Open (tied second).
Experienced Jyoti Randhawa also finished fourth at the Resorts World Manila Masters and second at Panasonic Open.
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