The ninth tee off at Chandigarh Golf Club is tricky. It is a typical dog-leg, the protruding rear boundary wall of Raj Bhawan denying a clear straight shot. The challenge of escaping the trap is accentuated by tall trees hugging the fortification, especially a massive eucalyptus that catches a low, weak or sliced ball invariably and lodges it into the governor’s backyard. On an average, the golfers on His Excellency’s staff get richer by a score balls every day. A joke goes that their playing sets don’t include any golf balls, thanks to a constant supply from wayward golfers.
Cricket fixtures in the grand PCA Stadium at Mohali bring both national and international icons to City Beautiful. We were on the seventh hole when there was a palpable buzz that some IPL cricketers were ahead of us. My caddy suggested it might be Glen Maxwell. I asked him how was he so sure. “Saab, I saw a skier crossing the iconic Arjun tree on the seventh; who else could do it but Maxwell.” We decided to find out for ourselves, lying in ambush at the ninth tee.
And then, we saw the golf cart approaching us. It was the master blaster with his inimitable boyish smile, as he waved at us and stopped. We introduced ourselves and had a quick photo session. His poise and the patience during this unexpected interruption in his golf round exemplified his greatness. His caddy, a veteran at the CGC, explained to him the nuances of this tricky tee off, and then I shared with him the joke about “golf sets sans balls”. Sachin asked his caddy about the tiger line (shortest, straightest but longest direction for the ball’s flight). The plump guy had an exuberant look when he said: “Saab, aap us eucalyptus tree ke upar se jayen (Sir, go over that eucalyptus tree).”
Knowing this treacherous and risky route, we crossed our fingers as Sachin Tendulkar, novice golfer, lined up to tee off. A half practice swing with a Sachin trademark follow through and bang... the golf ball went flying as we all tur ned to see the trajectory. Following the tiger line and keeping the tall eucalyptus well below, it landed beyond the hundred (yard) marker, a dream shot by any golf pro. With a smile on his face, the honorary group captain of the Indian Air Force and the world’s best batsman ever climbed down from the tee box, got onto the cart, and drove off with a smile.
He won everyone’s heart but we were not sure if that was the case with the ball collection team at Raj Bhawan, which was denied a collector’s item, a virtual Sachin memento.