Gingerly he made his way to the conference area, throwing an occasional backward glance to ensure if he was headed in the right direction. Even while inside, the apprehension stayed on. Accustomed to the life of a bystander on the golf course, the sudden turnaround required Vivek Bhandari to make some adjustments.
Among the best Indians on view early on, before Himmat Rai's late afternoon surge, Bhandari preferred to be surrounded by his questioners, but once coaxed to mount the dais, the coyness melted away.
Resting the pleasant face on a muscular forearm, the mind wandered to the days when he was a regular on the Asian Tour, and lending his name to the contenders' list was normal. All this was before a persistent back injury dealt a cruel blow.
His last appearance on the Asian Tour was in 2007 (on a country exemption) and the subsequent years of relative inactivity on the international arena led him to believe that traversing through wilderness was what lay in store.
“Amazing”, “surprising”, was all Bhandari could say to explain the round of 69, which placed him alongside Anirban Lahiri, Jeev Milkha Singh and others at T10, but he had almost ended up watching the action from the marquee area along the 18th green.
It was a call from within that made the 40-year-old enter the Tata Open (on the domestic circuit) in November. The instinctive move paid off and the second spot earned him a berth in his maiden Avantha Masters. “I was home, doing little, when the urge to go arose. You never know when a good round awaits you,” he said, reminiscing the outing at Jamshedpur.
Tossing up the past may not throw up many fond instances, but Bhandari is equipped to let go and move on. Sterner tests await him but the day was reserved for reliving moments like the triumph at the Honda SIEL PGA. The car he won 15 years ago still stands in his garage. “Maybe, I'll change it when my game improves,” he laughed.