Atwal swings title, almost - Best Indian result in US PGA with $330000 winning

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By SUJIT BHAR in Calcutta
  • Published 5.04.05

Calcutta, April 5: Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the day?s hero, but forget not Arjun Atwal for he too is a swinger. And what a swinger, too.

Dhoni struck 148 runs and took home a pay cheque of Rs 35,000. Arjun Atwal carded eight-under (in golf the lower the score the better the performance) and collected a cool $330,000. If sporting glory ? or, increasingly, any glory ? can be measured by a fistful of coins, Calcutta boy Atwal?s earning in this one tournament alone will be more than the income of many Indian cricketers in a year.

Turning away from money for a moment, Atwal yesterday came within a whisker of landing his ? and India?s ? first US PGA Tour title at Duluth in Georgia.

Atwal finished joint second in a five-man play-off in the $5-million BellSouth Classic in which he wasn?t even sure he?d play hours before start. It was the best result by an Indian in the US PGA.

The title was won by Phil Mickelson, the defending Masters champion on the US PGA Tour. Masters is the event where the world?s best play.

?What makes the US PGA Tour different from even the European Tour is that a second or third place finish here is equivalent to a title win on the European Tour. That is something not too many people recognise around the world, and especially back home,? Atwal told The Telegraph over phone from Florida, where he lives.

Atwal?s win pushed him to the 55th position on the US PGA Tour earnings list with a total take, in just three starts this year, of $418,000, a shade below half-a-million.

Considering recent developments that don?t involve cricketers, a top-five finish by India?s only Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan would be comparable.

Shooter Rajyavardhan Rathore?s Olympic silver might be a shade shinier. Sania Mirza will probably have to play in the semifinal of a Grand Slam to match it. And Viswanathan Anand?s place in world chess is probably the only consistently better-positioned brand of Indian sporting success around the world.

?Believe me, when I last went to India, there were these people who were asking me ?what happened, you dropped out of the scene?? I had to make them understand ? and that is a difficult thing to do ? how competitive this (US PGA) Tour is.

?Consider the first round. I returned a card of five over, but it was in howling winds of 40 miles per hour at the golf club. I just went at it and came back next round.?

Much the same, probably, for Karthikeyan?s first two races. The final round (the tourney was reduced to 54 holes because of the weather) hit was Anandesque, but Mickelson turned out to be the Garri Kasparov of the meet.

?I almost missed this meet,? Atwal said. ?I was waiting and waiting for a call to this meet, and maybe because of the weather or whatever, two-three players pulled out. They called me and said ?would you like to fill up?? I jolly well will, I said. And here I am.

?Frankly, this year I have been playing way better than last year, the conditional Tour card (allowing him only 18 entries instead of over 30 for a full card), notwithstanding. Last year, for example, at this same meet, I hadn?t made the cut. When I followed my first round slip with a five under second round, I was back on par and I said ?there?s nothing more to lose?.

?And I could have won it, too. Now, this good result will get me invitations to more tourneys this year. I?m sure by season-end I will have won a title here.?

Reminds one of Karthikeyan?s early words. ?We (at Team Jordan) are now concentrating on just bringing the cars back home. We get to the points later.?

Formula One is as rarefied an atmosphere as the US PGA ? more so really because it is restricted to only 20 drivers worldwide ? ?but the struggle, I?m sure, is the same,? says Atwal. ?One must remember the standard of achievement at these levels and add weightage, you see.

?When I won the Malaysian Open, I got $180,000 as champion. I got nearly twice as much here even after sharing the second spot with three others. That is the difference.?

Atwal has the next week off, it being the Masters? week (in which he isn?t good enough to play). Then he goes to Hilton Head for the MCO Heritage tournament in North Carolina. ?All top players again. Practised on the course last year, never played on it,? he says.

Atwal hasn?t met any of the other non-cricketing Indian superstars yet. ?But I?d like to meet them one day,? he says.

There?s the alternative market booming.