I remember the days when, as a child, I would walk the fairway after hitting a shot in Chandigarh amidst applause from the caddies. After every great shot, I’d say, ‘That is the shot I’ll hit at the Augusta Masters,’ and the caddies would laugh and clap.
Somehow, I was to find later, that the dream looked as if it’ll remain just a dream for quite a while, and things became still more difficult over the last few years. My last win before this year came in 1999. After that, I looked lost.
So much so that even if I were leading after a couple of days, people would say that I’d mess up on the back nine and would lose track. I never knew when this dilemma would end, though I was sure it would end one day.
It was just towards the end of last year that I started to think about the problems plaguing my game. One by one, I went through all of them and, to my surprise, found that the problem lay within my mind.
I was thinking too much about the result. I was putting too much pressure on myself to perform. And then, I thought about the cure. I just had to stick to the routine. I had to just go out and play every shot as it was to be played. No experimentations, just sticking to the routine stuff. And Eureka! There I was, with a title as early as April.
The greatest moment, though, was yet to come — I can’t forget that 210-yard walk on the 17th hole in Valderrama (at the Volvo Masters) amidst all the applause. And it all kept coming back to me. I got 18 top 10s and also ended the title jinx on the Japan Tour.
I think it is all in your mind. The tougher you are, the better you become, and patience is definitely the key. It is a lesson the current crop can do well to learn as early as possible. It bothered me for a while that unlike other Indians, I was struggling.
But then, what your compatriots do only goes on to encourage you. In times of trouble, you look up to them. What Arjun (Atwal) and Jyoti (Randhawa) were doing only helped me to get the self-belief back.
I hope that young golfers will be inspired by my performance and go on to do well in the sport.
India has a lot of potential, a lot of talent. What we need is investment and support from the corporate houses. I guess the formation of the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) is a move in the right direction.
Everywhere, the players’ bodies govern golf, so why not in India. Also, people will have to realise that I or Arjun or Jyoti will not be around forever. Nor will Shiv Kapur who, I must say, has been very good this season.
You need players who can fill the void once we leave. I was glad to hear that India won a team silver at the Doha Asian Games, but what Shiv did in 2002 — win an individual gold — was something that couldn’t be matched.
Here, I would like to talk about one man from whom youngsters can learn a lot — Tiger Woods. Despite being the world’s best, he is a humble gentleman. I will be facing him next year pretty often and I hope I can match him in his greatness.
My experience in Japan, though not as tough as Europe, should help me in the US PGA Tour as the greens are quite similar. I am taking a break from golf, but the thought of competing at Augusta as one of the world’s top 50 players gives me that adrenaline rush.