The desire to win still burns bright, but Mukesh Kumar has reconciled to a scenario where his infallible status at home is fast being referred to in past tense. Trailing Gaganjeet Bhullar in the Professional Golf Tour of India’s Order of Merit by some distance, the yearning to wrest back the top spot could be gauged from the focussed approach on the eve of the BILT Open.
From the putting green of the Jaypee Greens to the driving range and finally the chipping area, the prolonged stops were meant to carry out last-minute trials ahead of the Rs 1 crore event.
“The competition has got close with the advent of youngsters like Gaganjeet and Anirban (Lahiri), who score with their age, overall game and international exposure. I have accepted this and stopped bothering about rankings, in case it affects my game,” said Mukesh.
Lest his words be construed as a mark of submission, the man fired a salvo: “Apart from Mukesh Kumar, two others are in with a chance here — Anirban Lahiri and Ashok Kumar.” But a reality check was quick to follow. “Anirban scores with his long hitting and better rhythm and this being an open course will work to his advantage,” he said.
In the midst of the struggle to balance his chances vis-à-vis his 22-year-old opponent’s, came the words: “The course is in great shape but is playing longer as the fairways are soft. As for me, if my iron shot holds up, I’ll be fine,” said the 44-year-old from Mhow.
For Lahiri, the outing in a setting far removed from the hustle and bustle, is an extension of, what he calls, the process of “maturing quickly”. The lessons learnt on the Asian Tour have been imbibed well and combining them with the inherent talent has armed him with the wherewithal to perform on the big stage. Proof lies in the four top-10s in his rookie first season as a full cardholder on the Asian Tour. Notable being the tied third in last month’s Indian Open at the DLF Golf & Country Club, courtesy the eight-under on the final day that saw him soar from the 31st spot.
“One can’t mature in isolation. Different players, different courses have contributed significantly towards my growth as a professional,” he said. On the road ahead, the reply was: “Staying consistent and focussing on the short game.”