The Barthakurs still recount the brush with reality four years ago and feel little shame in admitting how it changed their perception of competitive golf.
Turning out against the cream at the World Junior Championship at San Diego, California, meant the stage could not have got bigger for little Altarash. Yet, he belied expectations to finish second in the under-eight category. The joy was unbridled but was soon reined in by the realisation that dawned on the young parents.
“When we left India, Altarash's build-up (of five events) appeared to be beefy. We were left gaping when we came to know that Sahith Teegala (an Indian boy settled there and the winner), had come in with 45 events behind him. The difference was huge,” said Akash, the senior Barthakur.
The road ahead
Akash understood that playing the Indian Golf Union-run domestic circuit, which comprises 10 events a year, wasn't going to suffice if he were to arm his son with the “cutting edge”. The concern was instrumental in bringing together a few like-minded parents and led to the birth of the Albatross Junior Tour. Three years down, Altarash and several like him frequent the IGU tour but have also featured in the 26 Albatross events till date.
This “child-centric” initiative does not come as a surprise. The Barthakurs are part of a burgeoning section, which have given their wards a free hand to “live their dream”. “As professionals, a common view among parents is ‘we’ve witnessed trials and tribulations in our spheres of influence,’ the children should go ahead and break new ground,” says Romit Bose, who coaches several top pro golfers.
All in the genes
It was Bhambri Sr’s fondness for tennis that had a cascading effect on his children. Ankita was the first to be initiated and went on to represent the country at the Fed Cup and Asian Games. Setting short-term goals, sibling Sanaa saw action at the four junior Grand Slams at 15. Acting on a challenge that he would go a step ahead, Yuki, the youngest, played the junior US Open at 14. That was the beginning and the Delhi lad went on to win the junior Australian Open in 2009 even before he could turn 17.
After a 92 percentile in his school final, the last thing the Chandhok family expected was their eldest son, Karun, to opt for a career in motorsport. “True, it was genetic (the family operated a sprawling workshop and testing facility on the outskirts of Chennai) but when Karun spoke his mind we thought he wanted to pursue it as a hobby,” says father, Vicky, a former rallyist and senior official of the national federation.
Despite the enthusiasm, a weighty issue had to be tackled. At 96kg, Karun was far from being fit but a one-to-one with his father was the beginning of his getting into shape in a short span. “Watching his zeal, I told myself this kid means business,” says Vicky.
‘Go, live your dream’
The basics were in place, but the sponsors “not keeping their commitments” threatened to abort the lad’s dreams.
“No doubt, I wanted my son to be among those who’d get to say that they lived their dream.”
To provide the platform for him to go international, Chandhok Sr sold the 18-acre facility that he had reared with care.
“It was the right thing to do.”
Changing social trends
Till some years back, putting academics on the back-burner to devote more time to sport would have met with parental displeasure. Not anymore. “Till five years back, skipping studies was a huge sin, but the realisation has dawned on parents that the kid can survive on sport and earn a good living. That has made them let go,” says Vicky.
The awakening to the potential of sport vis-à-vis traditional favourites like medicine and engineering coupled with the country's recent successes at the international arena has instilled a “if others can do it, I can do it too”, feeling. “The trend has become more pronounced after Abhinav Bindra's (Beijing) Olympic gold (in 2008),” says Pradeep Aggarwal. The mind trainer attributes the growth in interest to the influx of money and quick recognition.
Delivering the KO
Graduating from the ranks of the also-rans to aiming for the stars has to do with the growing aspirations of GenX. “One can be a part of the classes or masses but very few go on to become champions. Standing apart from the crowd enables quantification and sport arms you with the ability,” says Dr Tarun Jain, a psychologist.
Anirban Lahiri, an Asian Tour regular, attributes the increase in levels of aggression to international exposure and scientific coaching methods. “At 12 or 13, we (Gaganjeet Bhullar and Himmat Rai included) were never front-runners. But we got better in a short span and that was a result of getting shocked regularly at the world level. From being good at home, we were nobodies there. Out of this was born the desire to become cut-throat and not yield an inch.”