He was an awkward 22-year-old when Manav Jaini approached Nonita Lall Qureshi to take him in as her pupil. Qureshi did spot the spark, but told him to be prepared for a long haul. “She’d warned it would be a long time before I started playing half-decent golf,” said Jaini. Five years down, the coach's words are bearing fruit and Jaini remains hopeful of a better tomorrow. Though he has shied away from the summit, the season on the Professional Golf Tour of India has been rewarding — 10 top-10s so far have placed him seventh on the order of merit.
Barring the SAIL Open, earlier this year in which he finished T19, “the ability to carry forward the confidence” on to his limited Asian Tour stint is yet to happen, but on Friday at the Delhi Golf Club, the venue of the SAIL Open, Jaini could have started the process of rewriting the past.
Working on Thursday’s effort of 70, the 27-year-old returned a better card on Day II of the Hero Honda Indian Open to be a stroke shy of the leaders, South Korea’s Baek Seuk-hyun and Simon Griffiths of England. The 69 for the day also meant he was in a four-way tie for the third spot.
“The underdog” — the tag he prefers to wear, lest the pressure of playing on his home course gets to him – Jaini cashed in on the familiarity with the greens. “If you’re reading the lines right, you'll be fine,” he said, and the ability to pull it off translated into birdies on the 13th, 18th and 2nd and facilitated a blemish-free round.
The benefits for Jaini, overnight 11th, were manifold. Many have struggled on the tight fairways, and in an attempt to cancel out mis-hits, the driver has stayed in the bag. Not for Jaini. Using the club with dexterity on as many as six holes, he found the fairway on all occasions barring one. “That's the advantage of playing at home,” he smiled while stroking the blister on the left index finger.
The cut was applied was four-over 148, which meant defending champion, C Muniyappa, Anirban Lahiri and Daniel Chopra missed out on the weekend action.
Like the rest, Baek was eager to bring the driver into play but abstained on his caddie's insistence. “The first day, I was scared as it's a narrow course. If your tee-shots are bad, it’ll be plus two or three. I took out my driver but my caddie said ‘no driver this week’. So, I've left it in the hotel room.”
A rung shy of the leader on Thursday, Baek, whose best finish at the Asian Tour this season has been a T10 at the King's Cup, also cut down on his attacking instincts and though he missed some birdie opportunities, the greenhorn came away happy with the 70.