As a rule, nothing comes between Jeev Milkha Singh and golf. For once, the man stands swayed and it's been caused by his flesh and blood. Coming into big-money events like the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and this week’s offering at the DLF Golf & Country Club, spotting the world No. 59 straightening out his iron play, should have been routine sighting.
Instead, it was a nervous Jeev awaiting the birth of his first child.
Since then, he has been blessed with a son, but the euphoria continues. “Right now, I’m more excited about the baby,” he said on the eve of the Avantha Masters. The hours spent at the hospital outstrip the time spent on the course, but the top ranked Indian is far from writing himself off.
“The golfing gods have been kind and despite the lack of practice, I managed myself well in Dubai,” he said.
Landing on familiar territory and the incentive of winning his maiden title at home has led to “upping the ante”. Solid practice rounds have further sharpened the short game and armed with a feel-good factor, Jeev has laid down the wager.
The near-clash of dates with the PGA Tour’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship leading to a watered down European challenge, the race for the gleaming sterling silver trophy is likely to be an Asian affair.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better Indian field and it’s only appropriate that one amongst us wins,” said Jeev. If the presence of Jyoti Randhawa, Shiv Kapur, Arjun Atwal, S.S.P. Chowrasia and a youth brigade led by Gaganjeet Bhullar add teeth to the home challenge, the threat from Asian Tour heavyweights like Liang wen-chong and Thaworn Wiratchant cannot be belittled.
With the course in good shape and the greens likely to be trimmed further to increase speed, an engrossing contest is in the offing. But along with the optimism came words of caution. “There is the temptation to get aggressive on this course but the mindset can be counter-productive,” said Jeev.
Coming to his strategy, he said, “Normally, I like to attack but this time I’ll be conservative. Management and patience will hold the key, especially on holes like the 14th, 17th and 9th. Since the time I played the Johnnie Walker Classic (early 2008), the trees have matured and finding them will spell trouble.” Apart from the natural hazards, the elements too are likely to have a say. The wind is known to pick up towards the afternoon in these parts and if that is the case, it will have a bearing on the winning score — about 15-under, according to Jeev.
Eyes will be scouring the skies too, and if Gurgaon wakes up to clear weather on all days, Mukesh Kumar’s prediction could come true: “Aap dekhna, Indian bhaari parega (Indians will be tough to beat).”