It was providence that marked Rashid Khan's foray into golf. Having grown up putting bat to ball in the municipal park adjoining his humble abode in Sarai Kale Khan, Rashid, like numerous starry-eyed youngsters, dreamt of blazing the 22 yards in national colours. But a casual visit to the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) brought about a change of tack, one that would see him emerge as the country's top junior golfer.
On a pleasant morning in 1999, Rashid accompanied his uncle and pro golfer, Maqbool Khan, to the club. Drawing from his experience of wielding the willow with alacrity, the nine-year-old swung the club on the chipping greens for the first time and the result was astounding. "The shot caught the eye of the-then DGC captain and he recommended I take up the sport," reminisced Rashid.
The words of encouragement steeled Maqbool's resolve, who was contemplating introducing his nephew to the sport. But the path had its pitfalls. Two years with the club's Junior Training Programme and coach Romit Bose saw him grow, till a gap threatened to disrupt.
Ill-health and the yearning to return to his original love, cricket, turned 2002 and 2003 into trying years for the family of five. "I was bed-ridden for months and the illness made me a loner," said Rashid looking wistfully at the half-golf set that had come as a reward for the promise shown in 2000.
The year rolled over but the lad's stars showed no signs of looking up. The student of DAV School, Nizamuddin (East), decided he had had enough with academics dropped out after class VIII. The drift continued till a slap, during DGC's Amit Verma Memorial Tournament, stemmed the slide.
"A caddy had been needling me following which I retaliated. The man reported the matter to uncle who made his way to the fifth hole, where I was playing, and slapped me in full view," said Rashid rubbing his right cheek as if reliving the pain. "The beatings have stopped and we discuss a lot now," said the 17-year-old.
Back on track, the know-how acquired under Bose, Vikram Sethi and Nonita Lall Qureshi not only sent his career chart soaring, it also gave him the confidence to do without a coach. "I know when I'm making a mistake and am able to rectify it. I approach the coaches when it's imperative," said the wiry lad, who finished 2007 ranked No. 1 in the 'A' category (15-17 years) and also ventured beyond known shores to China, Malaysia, Scotland and Hong Kong.
Though Rashid admitted to financial constraints early on, a factor that had forced Maqbool to turn coach, sponsorships from the Golf Foundation and Indian Oil freed him considerably and the results this year speak for themselves --- a third spot in the Junior Mastercard at Perth and four titles at home. His latest triumph, the LG Northern India Amateur, ensured his passage to the prestigious Eisenhower Cup squad was smooth.
Despite the surrounding hype, Rashid is not willing to be rushed. "I still need to get into a routine. I will be playing next year as an amateur, and after competing at the Asian Games (2010, China), I'll turn pro."
The lure of the professional circuit is inviting but Rashid remains steadfast. "Paise kahin nahin jaate. Agar mehnat karoonga, kismat itni jaldi saath nahin chodegi. (Money is there for the taking. If I work hard, luck will not desert me in a hurry," he said waving a photograph of his parents, who he would be sending on Haj with his first earnings as a pro.