For many years now, Indian golf has relied on a handful of names on the international circuits to bring us laurels. With the dawn of each season, we used to train our eyes on these few players representing India on the international tours and all our hopes rested with the big three — Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa.
However, if the Indian showing on the international circuits in the past few seasons is anything to go by, then the one thing that stands out clearly is that we can now safely repose our faith in a slew of new names which include SSP Chowrasia, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Shiv Kapur, Anirban Lahiri and C. Muniyappa among others. All these players had an accomplished amateur career before they etched out a name for themselves on the professional circuit.
While the eternal journeymen of Indian golf continue their pursuit of success around the globe, there is a need for fresh and young faces. Hence it becomes imperative that stress is laid on building a pool of amateur talent.
Since the days I used to play to where we are today, Indian golf has taken many incredible leaps and nowhere else is it more evident than in the junior golf structure that the Indian Golf Union has put in place. No sport can grow without corporate sponsorship and this is where Tata Steel has stepped in to boost the efforts of the IGU by donning the mantle of the title sponsor of the National Amateur Tour and supporting the junior golf development programme in a big way.
IGU’s mandate to support junior golfers — treat them on a par with senior amateurs and offer a world of opportunity to them — is the right way to go.
One bright spark in recent times was the pocket-sized youngster going by the name Ashbeer Saini, who got an opportunity to play in a professional tournament outside India and even annexed the title. A professional title for a junior golfer who had never tasted success before at the senior level was a phenomenal achievement. Recently he won the East India Amateur beating the best of the field and is proving to be a bright prospect.
Ashbeer who is currently leading the Order of Merit on the National Tour is one player who leads a young and talented pool of players which includes Karan Taunk (No. 3), Udayan Mane (No. 4), Syed Saquib Ahmed (No. 7) and Trishul Chinnappa (No. 10).
The juniors to watch out for include Manu Gandas, Shubhankar Sharma, Viraj Madappa, Aman Raj and Roshan Raj, who are the top five on the IGU Junior Tour Order of Merit.
The heartening fact is that a lot of talented kids are emerging from smaller towns which do not have great golfing facilities but the platform provided by the IGU has helped them gain experience while honing their skills.
However, premature decisions by youngsters to climb the ladder and turn professional are a concern. Youngsters need to bide their time and gain enough experience to survive the hazardous schedule of professional golf, where one has to virtually live out of the suitcase for over 35 weeks a year, playing in different climatic conditions and courses.
In the recently concluded professional season, only 43 players averaged more than Rs 50,000 a month. So when you consider prohibitive air fares, hotel tariff and other costs, including those for local transfers and equipment, and that there are more than 300 pro golfers in this country, the decision to turn pro seems scary to make without putting in considerable thought and as they say ‘having paid your dues’.
Oil companies like ONGC, Oil India, GAIL, IOCL and the like have been great employers of our young players, supporting them to live their dreams, and the Tata Steel National Amateur Tour is providing the perfect platform for these youngsters to prepare themselves for the bigger tour. So there are options to rush into pro golf.
A pool of talent, a systematic development programme and good training facilities backed by corporate sponsorship make a heady concoction to produce more Jeevs, Jyotis and Arjuns, so this writer is very confident about the future of Indian golf.