Familiarity can be a potent weapon. Even before the playoff could commence, Shamim Khan’s fearsome reputation in one-on-one contests at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) had started to weigh down the Rashid Khan camp. The ambiguity over the setting of the BILT Open finale got cleared in no time, but the seeds of doubt, albeit over the younger Khan's ability to match the senior pro, had been sown.
Making his way to the 1st tee, before the retinue was directed to the 18th, Rashid’s caddie was stopped by some sympathisers. “Bad miss,” said one of them. Playing along, the caddie replied with a grit of the teeth, “Here, it is impossible to beat him (Shamim) in match-play.”
Turning the tablesThe format was stroke-play but by forcing the playoff, the 21-year-old had in a way played into the DGC veteran’s hands. Also fresh on his well-wishers’ minds was Rashid's fate at last week’s CG Open in similar circumstances.
Rashid’s 20-foot putt for birdie did push matters to the second playoff hole, but it only strengthened Shamim’s belief. With two match-play titles at this venue, the 34-year-old was ready to wait for his opponent to blink. “The moment I squared the first playoff hole, I knew I was in with a chance,” said Shamim. The shift from refinement (of stroke-play) to the dramatics (of playoff) required a change of strategy and it was Shamim, turning out in the fourth playoff of his 17-year-long pro career, who taught Rashid a ploy or two.
Standing by the 18th green, the two were mere specks, but the crowd had got talkative. “Seedha aadmi jitega,” chirped one, referring to Shamim's hitting. Sure enough, the second shot landed on the fairway, slicing it into half.
Be it the use of clubs or reading his rival's mind, Shamim was on top, and that ultimately got to Rashid. Required to sink a 10-feet putt to prolong the issue, his craft faltered. The pressure off him, all Shamim needed was to gently tap the ball in and signal his victory. Not know for histrionics, a slight raise of the hand was enough, but the invasion of admirers on the green tossed subtlety aside.
After some rapturous moments, the enormity of the occasion sank in, and for once Shamim lowered his guard. The crystal-studded trophy in one hand and the Rs 16,16,500 cheque in the other, he remarked, "When I am old, I can tell my grandchildren that I was a winner.”