Abhishek Mitra, 43, leads two lives. In one, he is based out of Secunderabad as the country head and general manager of Study Abroad, one of India’s leading educational organisations. In the other, he travels all across India, and sometimes the world, to play as a Mid-Amateur golfer (an amateur player beyond the age of 25) and win laurels at a rate impressive enough to make him one of India’s finest in his category. Born and brought up in Kolkata, where he was a student of South Point and then La Martiniere for Boys, Abhishek has learnt the art of balancing the course and corporate life seamlessly, allowing him to chase the dreams he appeared to have given up.
In 2003, Abhishek was playing in the Indian Open, some six years after he turned professional right out of school. “My first visit to a golf course was at the Chandigarh Golf Club with my grandfather. I had tried my hand at tennis at Kolkata’s Deshapriya Park, but my style felt more suitable for a different sport. After devoting several vacations to golf and winning a whole host of regional and junior tournaments, I started taking the sport seriously. I didn’t do well in my first year as a pro, but I had a strong support system. Players such as Basad Ali and Firoz Ali helped me a lot, as did Indrajit Bhalotia, who himself had made it big in the game from Kolkata,” recalls Abhishek, for whom the Indian Open two decades ago was set to be a stepping stone. But, just then, disaster struck. A nasty injury resulted in Abhishek fracturing his tailbone. Within a flash, golf was gone from his life.
‘I wanted to come back earlier, but I just didn’t have the courage’
It was not until 2013 that Abhishek touched a golf set again. “I wanted to come back earlier, but I just didn’t have the courage,” he says, adding how “increasing age and decreasing fitness had caught up with me”. Moreover, the sport itself had become much more competitive. According to Abhishek, “Almost everyone can hit 300 yards nowadays, as golf has become a power game.” In the decade that he stayed away from golf, Abhishek completed his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and settled into corporate life. “I was gaining weight and it was my wife who asked me if I just wanted to play for fun. I didn’t even have a golf set and had to borrow a second-hand one. After a few weeks, I started connecting the ball well and realised that I still had it in me,” smiles Abhishek. And thus began the second chapter of his love affair with golf.
Aiming to become the first Indian Mid-Am to conquer Britain and Europe
Abhishek finished runner-up at the 2022 British Mid-Amateur ChampionshipTT archives
“No Indian man has won the British Mid-Amateur Championship or the European Mid-Amateur Championship yet. I want to change that,” says Abhishek, who will be playing at both tournaments this summer, having finished second at the British Championship, held at the Woodhall Spa Golf Club, last year. Since 2020, Abhishek has been a constant fixture on the East India Mid-Amateur Tour, where he has been the Order of Merit holder for the last three years. For those who frequent the golfing action at Tollygunge Club or the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC), Abhishek’s is a familiar name, not least due to the number of tournament wins he has racked up. His favourite from his wins in India, however, did not come in Kolkata, but in Gurgaon, at the 2022 Panasonic Open Golf Championship.
In a normal week, Abhishek plays at least six days of golf, mostly in the morning. Sponsored by the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), Abhishek participates in around 15 tournaments in India every year. “Players at the Mid-Am level today are far better than what they were in my youth. A reflection of that is in the scores required to win. Earlier, you could win with a 10-over or even a 12-over. Now, it’s more like two-over or three-over that becomes a winning score. Internationally, it’s far more demanding, and you need at least a four-under or a five-under to have a chance,” explains Abhishek.
Hoping to return as a professional before 50
Excellence, not excuses, is Abhishek’s motto in his bid to return to the professional circuit in the 2020sAbhishek Mitra
What is the biggest difference between the Mid-Am circuit in India as compared with the one in the West? “Support and sponsors. Every player has a dedicated sponsor there and ample supporters to cheer them on. Hopefully, we can have that in India soon, with increasing involvement from the government as well as the golfing bodies,” responds Abhishek, who enjoys playing at St. Andrews in Scotland, the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai and Pebble Beach in California.
With more than 500 tournaments to his name already, what keeps him going? “The desire to do what I love and also to take another dig at playing as a professional. I hope to be able to do that before I turn 50. It’s not easy to improve at this stage since my age is also improving,” chuckles Abhishek.
In order to return as a pro, perseverance is likely to be Abhishek’s best friend. “If you have to play a round at six o’clock, you can’t be lazy about getting up. I’ve seen people complain about making sacrifices to play golf, be it the time of day or the weather. I’ve played 72 holes in the scorching summer of the UAE without a caddy or a cart, just as I have competed in freezing weather in Scotland, dealing with wind and snow. At the end of the day, if you are striving for excellence, you have to get rid of excuses.”