Oct. 30: When Jeev called home last night to say “I’ve done it, papa”, the “Flying Sikh” didn’t realise — nor did any other member of the family — what it meant.
Well, it means 34-year-old Jeev is $840,000 richer for one.
That’s the largest purse any Indian sportsman has ever collected — bigger, really, by some hundreds of thousands.
Some people say — and they’re rarely taken seriously — that money isn’t everything. Leaving that debate well alone for now, let’s just say that Jeev is the first Indian to win a top-level European golf tournament. The Volvo Masters he claimed is, in fact, the biggest event on the European tour.
Arjun Atwal also won a European tour title but that tournament was played not on European soil but in Singapore. Atwal’s winnings at $150,000 were also a lot less.
Milkha Singh, Jeev’s father who is known as the “Flying Sikh” for his running, said: “It took us a long time to realise he had won the Masters.”
“Initially, his victory was taken as just another win. It was much later when friends began calling us up that we realised how big it was as he had defeated Europe’s best in the game,” Milkha Singh said.
That he did. Although the American tour is tougher, the victory — which has catapulted Jeev into the top 20 in Europe and into the first 100 in world rankings — has opened up possibilities for him there too. Just for the record, he’s also the No. 1 player in Asia.
In individual sport, Jeev’s feat yesterday at Sotogrande in Spain will arguably come next only to Prakash Padukone’s victory in the All England badminton championships in 1980, which Pullela Gopichand matched 21 years later.
Viswanathan Anand would rank up there, too, but for the fact that chess is more than a sport, which is why he’s being kept out of the list accompanying this report.
“I’m very proud of being an Indian,” Jeev told his father, “and I want to achieve more for the country.”
Speaking to The Telegraph about his son, who was en route to Japan, Milkha Singh wouldn’t be drawn into a comparison between his coming within a hundredth of a second at the Rome Olympics in 1960 of bagging a medal in the 400-metre run and Jeev’s win.
“During my time, we had nothing. We had no stadium, no shoes, no tracks, no money, no coaches. Now things have changed. He’s (Jeev) got good coaches, good equipment.”
And sports in the family. Mother Nirmal Kaur, who captained the Indian women’s volleyball team, said: “I was very nervous the whole day yesterday. But I knew my son had it in him to bring laurels to the country.”
This was the second big title for Jeev this year, having earlier won the Volvo China Open. Brandon D’Souza, who has been “like an elder brother” to Jeev, said: “He’s won close to $2 million this year alone, which in itself is almost unbelievable.”
Everyone associated with golf agrees Indian sport now has a new icon, which “is a huge shot in the arm for our youngsters like Shiv Kapur”, according to ‘Bunny’ Laxman Singh, a former star.
“It’s a fabulous achievement, winning in Europe.… It should open up more avenues for him in the US as well,” he added.
After yesterday’s victory, Jeev said: “This is one more step in a very steep climb (to the US Tour) and I believe I can see the summit now.”