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Focus is on Lahiri & SSP

-Big-time golf returns to royal with PGTI’s star-studded championship
Rahil Gangjee (from left), Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chowrasia, at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, on Tuesday. Telegraph pictures

Calcutta: Big time golf returns to the Royal Calcutta Golf Club after a gap of 13 years. The last time the RCGC hosted a tournament of international prominence was in 1999, when local favourite Arjun Atwal lifted the Indian Open.

Atwal though will not be there, when, on Wednesday, the inaugural McLeod Russel Tour Championship, Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI)’s year-ending meet, tees off.

“It is unfortunate that I will be unable to make it across back home to play the McLeod Russel season-ending PGTI championship.

“Due to my playing commitments in the US, it will be very hard for me to participate in the inaugural event,” Atwal said in a statement.

The likes of Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh or Gaganjeet Bhullar may not be there, but a host of stars, including invitees Jyoti Randhawa, Anirban Lahiri, SSP Chowrasia, Rahil Gangjee and Sujjan Singh will be seen in action in the tournament which has a purse of Rs 1.25 crore — the highest-ever in India. The amount is set to increase to Rs 1.35 crore and Rs 1.50 crore over the next two editions. Apart from the five invitees, the top 58 players on the PGTI will also be seen in action.

The four-day meet will be a 72-hole stroke-play championship and there will be no cut. That means all the players will be guaranteed prize money, with the winner taking home Rs 19,81,250.

For the RCGC, this is a prelude to the bigger event — the Indian Open. And the Royal is hoping to host the premier tournament within the next two years.

The course itself has an electric look.

The fairways are narrower and the greens are of international standard. As Anirban Lahiri said during the interactive media session: “It will be fun... Real fun, playing at the RCGC over the next four days.”

Lahiri was 11 when he won his first sub-junior title here. A splendid show on his British Open debut (he finished tied 31st with a hole-in-one) earlier this year has made him the cynosure.

Twenty-one-year-old Rashid Khan, one of the promising golfers and the current leader in the Order of Merit, echoed Lahiri’s views about the course.

“A challenging course... If I can control my drives, then I think I have a chance. You can never predict how things will unfold,” the golfer, who aspires to play on the US circuit very soon, said.

“The course looks completely different. It was closed for a week and a lot of work has been done. The greens are of international standard, the fairways narrower and they have even added a few yards to the 13th hole,” the 34-year-old Chowrasia said.

SSP will be keenly followed on his home turf. “He is a senior pro and knows the course really well,” young Rashid said.

Meanwhile, the Pro-Am event provided amateur golfers from the city an opportunity to play alongside some of the top professionals.

The event was played in the Step Aside Scramble format where the player whose ball is selected by the group, steps aside and watches his team of three, play the next shot.

This process is followed until the ball is chosen on the green.

Each team comprises one professional and three amateurs. The event was won by Ashok Kumar’s team. Ashok’s team comprised amateurs — Keshalya Deb, Ishan Bajoria and KN Desai. Their team’s score was 62. They beat the second-placed team on the basis of a countback.

Feroz Ali Mollah’s team finished runners-up with a total of 62. The amateurs who made up Feroz’s team were Amit Daga, Manish Periwal and Nilesh Jatia.

Tata Open winner Mithun Perera’s team were the second runners-up with a score of 63. Mithun’s team comprised amateurs Mukesh Palta, RS Sabherwal and Ambreesh Daga.