ON A hot stifling day, when holding the golf club with sweaty palms wasn't easy, crowd favourite Smriti Mehra came up with a sub-par performance, birdying only on the sixth hole to be placed joint fifth after the opening round of the women's Indian Open at the DLF course on Wednesday.
The Indian was tied with promising Thai players Chutichai Porani and Nontaya Srisawang, world cupper Wang Chun (China), Japan's LPGA player Yuki Sakurai and Korean Kang Yeo Jin.
Speaking about the day's proceedings, Mehra said she was not happy with her putting. "I was not happy with my putting today and am looking to improve on it tomorrow," said Smriti, who is three strokes adrift of the leader. "But I was comfortable with the course and thoroughly enjoyed my home Open."
Thai teenager Phatlum Pornanong set the tone with a tidy two-under 70 that gave her the sole lead. The 19-year-old hit a bogey on the last hole when the ball disappeared into the bushes. This year's Indonesia amateur champion, Lidya Ivana Jaya, and Jenni Kuosa of Finland were joint second at one-under 71.
Phatlum said, "I had a decent round and I loved the course. On the last hole, I hit a bad approach shot and bogeyed, but still I am happy with the round." The breeze also took its toll, as there were only three sub-par scores and one even-par.
Not a good day for Indians
Bangalore amateur Sharmila Nicollet, who was comfortably placed at two-under after 13 holes, faded away as she hit a bogey on 12th and then a triple bogey on the par-5 14th. She committed a double-bogey on the 17th and another bogey on the 18th to finish with seven-over 79.
The other big hope, Irina Brar, had a tough time as she finished the day at four-over 76 and was tied 21st with Kiran Matharu of England. India's young US-based amateur, Tanya Wadhwa, was placed tied 26th with five-over 77.
WGAI chugs along
OF LATE, India has seen a phenomenal rise in women's professional golf. The success of the men's circuit in the country has, in a way, acted as a catalyst for the growth of women's golf. And the DLF women's Indian Open, now in its second year, is proof of that success story.
And with success, moolah has come in plenty. To put things is perspective, the men's Indian Open did not exceed a purse of US $120,000 for almost two decades, but the women's Indian Open has touched that mark it only its second year.
The Women's Golf Association of India (WGAI) can now boast of nine events with a minimum purse of Rs. 1.5 lakhs. Even as the domestic Tour - comprising around a dozen events - takes small, measured steps, international women's golf is taking giant strides.
Since the time the WGAI worked to get a Skins event with international star cast, India has never looked back. It hosted the Ladies Indian Masters, a European Tour event, at Bangalore in December 2007. The Euro 200,000 event saw the best of Europe come to India.
And now, the DLF Women's Indian Open, boasting of a huge $120,000 purse, is seeing some of the leading lights of the world vying for top honours.
Players like Simi Mehra and Irina Brar, who represented India at the World Cup in South Africa last month, have a good fan following. The fact that India was invited for the World Cup is proof that the achievements of Indian women have been noticed internationally. Indian girls like Sharmila Nicollet, Shweta Galonde, Vaishavi Sinha and Meghna Bal represented the country at the 2006 Doha Asian Games. They are the future of professional women's golf in the country. Irina Brar summed it up by saying, "The stature of the women's golf has grown over the years and is still growing. I think we can look to the future with a lot of hope."