The turnout to watch Woods play. (PTI)
New Delhi, Feb. 4: God came to India yesterday. In the punyabhumi that is Bharat, there are 330 million and one gods and goddesses — the last, Santoshi Ma, being Bollywood’s maiden contribution to this expanding universe.
But Delhi found out today that there is no God but God and Tiger is his name.
Over 5,000 screaming screeching devotees thronged the Delhi Golf Club, making play well nigh impossible. There are just so many people, observed a bemused Tiger Woods. “When I went up to the first tee,” Tiger said later in the evening, “I said to myself ‘Oh, my God!’”
For part of the course, I was his playing partner. I joined him on the tee 14. Tiger used his gleaming red Nike driver, the ball sailed past the 300-yard-mark almost effortlessly. The hole meandered to 586 yards for a five par.
For long-hitting professionals, such holes are low-hanging fruits. They reach the green with two flicks of the wrist and generally finish one or two below par. Normal humans like us struggle. The streaming mass of humanity made a tough going tougher. I had a reasonable drive, a poor second, a brilliant rescue from the fairway bunker, 7 iron to a green side bunker, lobbed myself above the crowd’s head into the green and managed a difficult putt for a bogey. (Translation: one above par which is about B.)
Tiger, meanwhile, was on the green in two. He did not read the green properly and had to settle for a birdie, which is still two shots below par.
On the next hole, I continued with my driver though my caddie helpfully suggested a 3 wood, a club that travels less but is also less prone to misadventure. The hole itself was a short par 4 — only around 360 yards or so. I tried to escape hitting into the crowd and managed to push the ball to the right. He used a 3 iron which soared disdainfully above the crowd and of course split the course in two. (Translation: he hit straight as an arrow.)
Predictably, he was on the green in two and rather boringly birdied again. Later, he said: “I was only afraid of hitting the people behind on my backswing.”
The saga continued for 18 holes. The dilettantes struggling to keep the ball in play, confounded by the unaccustomed adulation of the aam aadmi but consoled by the fact that professionals, too, did not have an easy time.
“All I saw were heads and heads,” rued Anirban Lahiri, the winner of the McLeod Russel in December at the RCGC (Royal Calcutta Golf Club) in Calcutta.
Not wishing to injure the crowd, Lahiri played a low draw — golf language for a ball that swings in from right to left — on the final hole and only succeeded in driving the ball and himself out of play. Tiger hit a high fade, the ball moving from left to right, in the bunker but still managed to par.
This was Woods’s first taste of India. He politely avoided making a comment about the golf course which was yet to recover from winter and clearly not at its best.
“I play golf for a living,” he later said, adding that he found the course “unnecessarily narrow”. Tiger has never been one to stick to the straight and narrow. But that — and his unfamiliarity with the landscape — could hardly stand in his way to a majestic round of 63, which is 9 below par.
At a question-and-answer session during dinner, he expanded a little. The course, Tiger said, had some odd angle. Clearly, the Delhi Golf Club had not met with the master’s approval.
Tiger’s friend “Arj” had been pressing him to visit India. “We will have a blast,” promised Arjun Atwal, the name by which this friend is known in Calcutta. Unfortunately, Arjun has had to stay back in the US because of immigration protocol. “He is one of my best friends,” Tiger told me.
Arjun is happy that Tiger at last has come to India but would have been happier had he begun his India journey from Calcutta. The Royal is where Tiger should have cut his India tooth. Its beguiling fairways and abundance of water bodies can be a challenge to all human endeavours.
“I would like Tiger to play the 3rd hole from the Championship tee. I would like to see how he negotiates the dog’s leg with water on both the left and the right and the rough a little up,” says Arjun, naughtily, over the phone.
Agrees Anirban Lahiri. “Playing the 3rd against the wind is life’s worst nightmare come true,” says he. “Unless you conquer the Royal, you have not conquered the world,” adds Arjun.
Tiger was in India courtesy Pawan Munjal, indefatigable promoter of golf in India. The Indian Open continues to exist through his benevolence. “I would like to see Tiger playing the Indian Open,” he said, a dream not beyond his determination. His companies earn over Rs 2,500 crore a year.
Hero Motors, which sponsored the event, was unwilling to discuss the price. Tiger normally expects $2 to 2.5 million for a day’s fun plus the cost, which... erů includes fuel for his private jet. At current prices, the tag for a Dubai-Delhi-Florida journey is around half a million. Add to this the cost of hotel for Woods and his large entourage and other sundry expenditures, and one is looking at at least $3 million for a 24-hour sojourn.
This converts to Rs 20-odd crore for one day. To put this figure in context, Shah Rukh Khan charges Rs 1.5 crore for a day and Koel Mallick charges around Rs 7 lakh.
Passion has its price.