Arjun Atwal deserves more than a hug and a pat for becoming the first Indian to win at a PGA Tour. When he raised his hands to register a winner’s rush at the Wyndham Championships in Greensboro on a North Carolina Sunday afternoon, the Calcutta-born 37-year-old created history by becoming the first qualifier (Atwal had to play a qualifying tournament because he had failed at the Canadian Open last month and was disqualified from an automatic PGA tour appearance) after Fred Wadsworth in 1986 at the Southern Open. The new champion was 13 years old then.
While his finishing score of 20-under-par 260 may not be as easily decipherable as a winning scoreline for most Indians obsessed about another sport involving a ‘stick’ and a ball, Atwal’s feat is a tremendous achievement for followers of golf in India. The story is made even more laudable when one takes note of the fact that ten days before his 34th birthday in 2007, he was involved in a car racing accident in which another driver was killed. A year’s police investigation later, the case was closed, but it could have veered him off the path of a successful professional golfing career. Thankfully, not Atwal. A shoulder injury earlier this year, however, forced him off the PGA Tour — until his qualifying just in the ‘nick of time’ for the Wyndham Open.
Golf, as Atwal’s friend, philosopher and guide Tiger Woods well knows, can be a lonely sport. The crowd may be cheering you on from the sidelines, but in between one shot and another it’s a solitary walk on the greens. Atwal has shown us that it’s what happens between the shots that’s as important as — if not more than — the shots themselves.