Home greens power Rashid’s Tokyo dream
India’s top representative for golf at Tokyo 2020 may not be Anirban Lahiri, who’s playing on the PGA Tour, or Shubhankar Sharma, who is playing the European Tour, but Rashid Khan, who prefers to stick to the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) and the Asian Tour. The inclusion of Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points in the PGTI since last year is proving to be a game changer and has led the current crop to aspire for a top-100 spot in the world. Showing the way is Khan; at 176, he is the country’s best in men’s golf as of last week’s official world rankings.
Sharma, at 250, is the closest to Khan and plays for higher world ranking points and prize money on the European Tour. Sharma even got a few starts on the Korn Ferry/PGA Tour (in the US) last season. A win could change the equation for Sharma, or the pack chasing the duo, but on current form Khan would be fancying his chances as India’s No 1 when the qualification period for the Tokyo Olympics ends on June 22. The men’s competition is scheduled from July 30 to August 2.
The Olympic field is restricted to 60 players and the top-15 world-ranked players are eligible with a limit of four players from a given country.
Beyond the top-15, players are qualify based on world ranking, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top-15. With these as the criteria, Tokyo 2020 has its own qualification ranking system, in which Khan stands at 52.
Playing at home has always worked well for Khan. He played just five Asian Tour events in 2013, four of which were at home, and finished top four in two to bounce back after losing his Asian Tour card earlier in the year. “If I could do it in 2013 (and seal my Asian Tour card), why not again,” said Khan.
The 28-year-old is also smart in money matters. The grounding started in childhood. A visit to the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) with his golfer uncle in 1999, at the age of eight, got him hooked to the sport. For many years, Khan travelled from home to DGC with just Rs10 in his pocket, just about enough to cover his bus fare. That experience came in handy when he lost his Asian Tour card at the end of 2018.
“When you have nothing, it leads you to think out of the box,” said Khan. Being a two-time winner, he had an exemption right up to the final stage of qualifying school in December 2018, but he chose not to go. “There was no point spending $3,500 travelling to Thailand (for Q-School) to get a card when I could play the same number of events on a country spot,” said Khan.
Prudence was at work, as was experience. Khan had secured his 2014 card in a similar manner. He played just five Asian Tour events in 2013, four of which were at home, and he finished top four in two of them. “If I could do it in 2013 (seal my Tour card), why not again,” said Khan.
It was to his advantage that 2019 saw the PGTI being awarded OWGR points and he made the most of the opportunity by winning twice last year to add to his total of eight previous wins on the tour. By playing the PGTI and co-sanctioned (Asian Tour) events at home, Khan kept adding world ranking points. A couple of strong weeks on the Asian Tour outside India, where he got in by virtue of a country spot, added to the solid season. From a world ranking of 784 at the end of 2018, Khan leapfrogged to 216 after last season. The form is clearly on the upswing as he has notched two top-10s in Singapore and Hong Kong in the 2020 Asian Tour season.