How did Arjun Atwal become the star golfer he is today?
I worked my butt off and made it! No but seriously, I had a plan and specific goals to play on the PGA Tour. And once you have a goal and you want to achieve it, you want to do everything you can to get there. When I was like 15 years old, I was determined to play on the PGA Tour. I think I owe that determination to my dad (Bindi Atwal). He was, still is, probably one of the most positive people I know. The year that I’ve had this year (Arjun lost his card failing to receive full playing status for the coming year on the PGA Tour)… but dad’s still telling me that next year I’m gonna win. He’s definitely the biggest influence in my life.
It’s not been a great year for you. Are you feeling down? How do you plan to overcome that?
I’m not going through a down now… I’m fine now. I did, for a day, when I lost my card but I have a thing called really short-term memory. So ya, it was disappointing at the time but I already have plans in my head about what I want to do next year and how to get it back. I’m going to get a few starts on the PGA Tour because of my past champion status. In fact, my first tournament is going to be at Pebble Beach and of the ones that I’m going to play next year, two are going to be on the PGA Tour, so my goal is to win one of them and get my card back immediately.
What is it that keeps you going?
It’s all about the wins for me. After a certain point, it’s not about the money but more about winning tournaments. The day I feel I can’t win tournaments anymore, I’ll quit. I’m not one of those people who like to finish top 10, I like winning.
When was that point when you stopped playing for money and started playing for the passion to win?
It’s always been like that. The money comes, you know. If you’re passionate about your work and you enjoy doing it, you have more chances of success.
What is your first memory of meeting Tiger Woods and how did you two become best buddies?
The first time I met Tiger was in 1998 in Phuket, Thailand. We played together, the final round of the Johnnie Walker tournament. We really didn’t talk much because obviously we were playing a tournament. After that I met him when I joined our club, which we both belong to, in Orlando, and he remembered me because I was the only Indian out there. We hit it off right away and we have very similar personalities. He’s become really close over the last few years.
What have you learnt from him about the game?
A lot! About how to handle golf courses, how to handle pressure better, the adrenaline rush during a tournament and the crowd. Also, a big help with him has been that when I first played, I was a little intimidated with some of the superstars. Then I kind of realised that I’m playing with the best player so I really don’t have any reason to be intimidated by any other player!
Any fun anecdotes you can share about the two of you?
They’re all X-rated, sorry! (Laughs) Thing is it’s really a lot of fun and there’s always a lot of needling when we get together, back and forth. It’s like with him (points at buddy Indrajit Bhalotia, who runs Calcutta’s only golfing academy), we’re always needling each other… he’s always making fun of my hairline!
Describe a typical day during a tournament.
Stressful! I get to the golf course a hour-and-a-half before, get some food, warm up on the greens, play, come back to the hotel, eat dinner and sleep.
Do you follow a strict or not-so-strict diet and fitness regimen?
Strict. Except right now (laughs)! I’m on vacation this week but usually, I start my day with a warm-up routine in the gym, which lasts around 20-25 minutes. During a tournament, I eat a lot of carbs because you have to burn a lot of carbs playing your rounds and walking five hours a day. Breakfast is big — I eat oatmeal, eggs and fruit. No junk like bacon and sausages because that slows you down. I’m trying to cut down on white bread as well. My wife (Sona) has gone gluten-free and I’m trying to as well but I love bread and rotis so I can’t give it up completely! Lunch is light, I grab a sandwich or salad and dinner is grilled fish or chicken.
What food do you look forward to in Calcutta?
I eat everything! Everything! I mean, I called GG (Gaurav Ghosh, convener for junior/professional golf, RCGC) and told him I was dying to eat the samosas at the 10th hole Shamiana in RCGC. In Tolly, I love the fish finger. I love bekti, it’s my favourite fish in the world.
So some part of you is Bengali!
(Laughs) Oh ya! I tell all my friends over there, they’re always talking about their salmons, and I’m like, ‘There’s nothing better than bekti and prawns in Calcutta’. I think it’s the best in the world. I love rolls from Nizams, I still haven’t done that yet but I’m going to one of these days. And eat at Balwant Singh dhaba and try and get food from Kwality as well.
What are your plans for Christmas?
I’m going to be in Delhi. I would love to continue to be here (Arjun’s parents stay in Alipore) but my wife is from Delhi and it’s only fair that we spend some time with her parents as well. Plus, our kids get to see their nana and nani. My brother (Govind) and GG are coming over — I don’t really have any friends in Delhi, all my friends are here — so it’ll be fun.
You’re in Calcutta after two years — what are the changes that you see?
For one, the traffic’s more, coming back from the airport took us a long time. But that’s basically it. The pollution’s also a little more, more smog, like Delhi. Never used to have that, which is strange.
How would you rate the golf courses in Calcutta?
I love Royal. Tolly’s also fun, it’s sentimental because we grew up playing on both the courses. But I love the Royal, really good golf course. I love old-school golf courses anyway… even the ones we play on the PGA Tour, the ones that I like are old-school — built many years ago, with a tree line, not too many water hazards, not too many things in front of you so you can see it all.
Golf has been included in the 2016 Olympics after an absence of 100 years. How do you feel about that?
I think that’s awesome. I hope that India actually does some kind of programme geared towards the Olympics. That would be the only right thing to do because all the youngsters come out of India.
Do you plan to play?
I’ll be 80 by the time the Olympics happen! Actually, 43. That’s old.
Noida for the Jeev Milkha Singh-hosted Shubhkamna Champions event from December 21.
ARJUN & SONA
Arjun married his childhood sweetheart and family friend’s daughter Sona in 2000. “I don’t remember meeting Sona because we’ve known each other since we were kids. We even have a photograph together where she’s in a baby chair and I’m standing behind her!” recalls Arjun. They both liked each other but Sona lived in Delhi and Arjun lived in Calcutta. Then he went to New York and she to London for college. “It was only when Sona visited New York and that’s the time, I hadn’t seen her in four-five years, and she had grown from a girl to a woman and I was like, ‘Whoa!’.” The rest, as we know, was a fairytale story.
ARJUN & HIS KIDS
Arjun makes it a point to meet his family if he’s on the road for long. “If I’m playing four weeks at a stretch, I probably fly back Sunday night and then fly out Monday night,” says the doting dad to Krishen (8) and Shiva (5). When he’s home, they’re together 24X7 playing basketball, tennis and watching movies. “I have very understanding kids. Their mother’s done a great job and when I leave, they understand that I have a job to do,” he says. Both sons want to be professional athletes when they grow up. “Right now, they’re crazy about basketball and they’re the tallest kids in their grades back in Orlando. Thank god they didn’t say golf!” he adds.
ARJUN & his buddies
His golfing best friends are Indrajit Bhalotia (inset), Gaurav Ghosh
(standing) and Tiger Woods. “I don’t have too many friends in Delhi so GG (Gaurav) and Govind (brother, right) are joining me for Christmas,” says Arjun, who will be in Noida for the Jeev Milkha Singh-hosted Shubhkamna Champions event from December 21.
ARJUN & HIS LAKSHYA
Winning is everything for Arjun and though he has failed to receive full playing status for the coming year on the PGA Tour, he plans to get back on track. “Out of the tournaments that I’m going to play next year, two are going to be on the PGA Tour, so my goal is to win one of them and get my card back immediately,” he says.
ARJUN & TIGER
The two have been neighbours and practice partners for five years in Florida.
“We hit it off right away and we have very similar personalities. He’s become really close the last few years. When I first played, I was a little intimidated with some of the superstars. Then I realised that I’m playing with the best player so I really don’t have any reason to be intimidated by any other player!”
Any fun anecdotes to share? “They’re all X-rated, sorry! (Laughs) Thing is it’s really a lot of fun and there’s always a lot of needling when we get together back and forth.”
Turned pro in 1995
Topped the order of merit on the Asian Tour in 2003
First player on Asian PGA to exceed US $1 million in career earnings
Second Indian golfer to earn membership of the European Tour after Jeev Milkha Singh
First to win on a European Tour event — a five-stroke victory in the 2002 Caltex Singapore Masters
First Indian-born player to win a PGA Tour title in 2010 at the Wyndham Championship