Life after golf: Atwal wants to be inaccessible
It’s taken Arjun Atwal quite a while to figure out that he’s not good enough at anything else but golf. After 24 years as a professional— during which he showed if there was will, there was a way by becoming the first Indian to win on the European Tour and the only one to do so on the PGA Tour—the 46-year-old finds himself at a crossroad.
“The inner voice and wife (Sona) tell me to play the senior tour (when he turns 50) but I want to stop in the next two-three years. I’ve never had surgery but If I were to see a doctor now, he’d recommend six (bad knees, elbow and three vertebras),” said Atwal, after receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Asia Pacific Golf Summit in Gurugram’s DLF Golf & Country Club on Wednesday.
“I have invested in a couple of things which keeps the money coming in, but if I were to get hands-on, it wouldn’t be good enough. I realised last year that after practising and playing golf for a living for so many years, I wasn’t cut out for anything else,” he said.
That’s why the rush of adrenaline even now whenever he tees off. The tied 41st at last week’s PGA Tour event in Southampton, Bermuda, could have been better had the putting held, but that’s the mindset he would like to have till he’s seen on the golf course.
“The day I stop believing I can beat the field, I’ll stop,” said Atwal, winner of the Asian Tour’s order of merit in 2003.
Knowing himself, it will be a while before Atwal listens to his inner voice and Sona, but when that happens, preparations will start for life far away from golf. The destination is a remote outpost in Bihar that has nothing but a branch of the Bihar School of Yoga. “Once there, I’ll be inaccessible to the world,” said Atwal.
Till then, he will continue to make the most of the playing opportunities, for that’s the way he’s trained himself after watching father, ‘Bindi’, build an enterprise in mining at Asansol and Kolkata. “My father broke his back (literally) trying to build the business, and when he sent me out for college golf in the US (a rarity in those days), his words were, ‘if this is what you want to do, give it your best shot’.”
Taking golf to the masses
It’s been on the mind for many years, but the rigours of pro golf and the difficulty in getting himself heard in the corridors of power from his base in Orlando, Florida, pushed the concept to the backburner, but once he moves back, Atwal will renew attempts to start public driving ranges across the country. “That’s the only way to broad base the sport. Indians might not be the quickest in the world, but our hand-eye co-ordination is among the best. With a population of 1.2 billion, we are looking at amazing numbers,” said the 2007 Arjuna awardee.
Atwal is aware of the enormity of the task. “In the past, I tried getting sponsors like Wyndham (the sponsor of the event he won on the PGA Tour in 2010) and some others to invest here, but they were reluctant given the layers of red tape here.”
With multiple wins in Asia, Europe and the US, there is little to fret about on the golf course, but off it, Atwal has one regret. Since his first international win at the 1999 Indian Open at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, Atwal has been losing hair fast, and early mornings are spent before the mirror.
He attributes it to the pressure of winning on his home course as he lacked belief leading to that week in March. “Wyndham is big for historians, for me, Indian Open is THE moment.”