Whilst Gaganjeet Bhullar fell just short of delivering a fairy-tale finish, last week’s Avantha Masters still proved that Indian golf is currently in very rude health indeed.
The ‘old guard’ of Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa, respectively tied 23rd and tied 29th behind winner Thomas Aiken, were overshadowed by the exploits of young guns such as Bhullar (second) and Himmat Rai (joint ninth), a fearless duo who appear destined for very bright futures.
The two twenty-somethings have both enjoyed success on the Asian Tour but are now intent on expanding their horizons, with his cheque for €200,000 having gone a long way towards securing Bhullar – currently an Affiliate Member – a place on The 2014 European Tour Schedule for the first time in his burgeoning career.
Despite signing off with a best-of-the-day round of 64 for a 20 under par aggregate total, Bhullar – winner of the 2011 Gujarat Kensville Challenge on the Challenge Tour – was ultimately disappointed not to have made his European Tour breakthrough at Jaypee Greens, the stunning resort in Greater Noida to which he is now attached.
But the 24 year old took plenty of encouragement from his highest finish on The European Tour, which he hopes will act as a launchpad into the Major arena.
“Hopefully this performance will get me noticed and earn me more starts in some of the bigger European Tour events later in the year,” he said.
“I have a strong feeling that, given my current form, another win is just round the corner. My main target this year is to qualify for the USPGA Championship and, looking further ahead, I would love to represent India in the 2016 Olympics.”
Like most of his peers, Bhullar sharpened his competitive instincts on India’s domestic circuit, the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), before seeking his fame and fortune further afield, first on the Asian Tour and more recently on the Challenge and European Tours.
The PGTI has grown exponentially, and now features 25 tournaments annually with a combined prize fund of approximately US$1.75million.
In addition, there are three Asian Tour events held on Indian soil, plus of course the crown jewel, the Avantha Masters. Tri-sanctioned by The European and Asian Tours and the PGTI, it is comfortably India’s most lucrative golf event with a prize fund of €1.8million.
Last month, Shiv Kapur also organised the inaugural Golf Premier League (GPL), a team event held near Mumbai which attracted the likes of Michael Campbell, Angel Cabrera and Darren Clarke, whose team took home the lion’s share of the US$400,000 prize purse.
Played partially under floodlights and over just 14 holes, the format of the tournament – which was televised live – was based loosely on cricket’s hugely popular Indian Premier League (IPL), with each team representing a different region of India.
With its fanatical following in the Subcontinent, cricket has traditionally been – and perhaps always will be – head and shoulders above any other sport in the Indian public’s affections.
But golf is gradually playing catch-up, thanks chiefly to the increasing number and indeed quality of junior tournaments sanctioned by the Indian Golf Union (IGU).
Amongst others, the IGU has helped nurture the precocious talents of Shubham Jaglan, a son of a milkman who originally learnt to play golf through watching clips on the internet.
Over the past two years, the seven year old has won more than 60 junior tournaments, both at home and abroad, most recently with an aggregate score of nine under par.
As golf grows in popularity, so facilities have also improved, with India already boasting courses designed by Jack Nicklaus (the Classic Golf Resort) and Greg Norman (Jaypee Greens Golf & Spa Resort), and Gary Player’s Signature Course at DLF Golf and Country Club set to open this summer.
In total, there are some 270 courses across India, with that number predicted to mushroom in the coming years.
All of which bodes very well for the future of the game in India, a country which continues to live up to its ‘Incredible’ epithet in every way.