The 2009 Iskandar Johor Open ended in disappointment for Himmat Rai, but that Sunday duel with KJ Choi educated him on a key aspect of golf --- perseverance.
His wait for a breakthrough on the Asian Tour spilled over into 2011 but that did not make Himmat cringe. After matching Choi shot-to-shot, till the famed South Korean cut loose with back-to-back chips, Himmat knew he could compete against the best. It was about making the transition. "My skills set were not strong enough," he said.The crossover happened at the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic, but after that, he's been operating in fits and starts. Standing outside the score recorders on Thursday, the mind went back to that final round in late October 2009. The throwback is quite frequent these days. It's how the DLF Masters champion reminds himself of Choi's clinical approach.
A stroke away from Toran Bikram Shahi, the clubhouse leader (play was suspended due to bad light), Himmat's opening round at the DLF Golf & Country Club was all about doing the job with a bowed head.
Hitting the ball immaculately, he took advantage of the par-five's to notch up two of his four birdies. And landing the ball close to the flag meant his longest birdie putt was not more than 15 feet.
"I did everything in patches," he said on the round of three-under 69. All through the day his focus was on routine not the result. Time and experience have taught him to go out with minimum expectation.
It isn't as if the start-stop season has led him to doubt his craft. On the mind is Choi's come-from-behind effort. Trailing Himmat by a stroke on the final day of the rain-curtailed event, Choi's birdie-making spree left his inexperienced rival with memories that have stood by him during trying times.
“He showed that if one stayed calm and focused, nothing was impossible," said Himmat. If the deeds of the world No 43 stand out till this day, also fresh are the words that came with a thump on the shoulder, "You are good enough for the PGA Tour.”