Mukesh aces the longevity challenge
Mukesh Kumar’s longevity and success in golf is because of the way he learnt to play, and for that he credits his late father Nathu Singh. A reputed wrestler of his time, Nathu spent hours watching his son strike the ball at the Dussehra maidan, which also housed the nine-hole Army golf course when Mukesh started out in 1980.
“He wasn’t aware of the intricacies but whenever my ball striking got wayward, he would admonish me. It was also in my interest to keep the ball on the fairway as in the absence of ball pickers, a lot of time went into looking for it in the thick rough on either side,” says Mukesh. Another drill to keep the ball on the centre of the fairway was to keep his golf bag in the middle and plant flags on either side, and take shots from different angles.
Mukesh went on to become one of most accurate ball strikers on the Professional Golf Association of India (PGAI), and now the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI).
The statistics haven’t changed much for the 54-year-old. Records from the PGAI aren’t available, but the claim is he has won over 100 times.
On the PGTI, Mukesh is the oldest winner and it will be a while before someone catches up with his 20 wins. He gives himself two more years, but one doesn’t know in his case.
“Before I quit, I will create a record (of playing till an age) that will take some beating.”
For Mukesh, golf is a way of life. His ancestral house is named ‘golf player’, and his 350cc Royal Enfield rechristened ‘Royal Golf’. “I’ve never given prominence to anything else. Else, I wouldn’t be where I am, and you wouldn’t be here interviewing me,” he says.
The stubbornness to be the best was born out of missing cut in his first professional event at Mhow in 1982. “I vowed never to miss cut again and took a break to practice hard.”
In 13 seasons on PGTI, he has missed cut in just 14 events, thanks to the regimen followed diligently till his father died in 2017. Life has slowed down since then, he says.
In 1982, it was about reaching the golf course at 7am and warming up by running three rounds of the golf course, followed by hitting 700-800 balls with irons and wedges till 1pm. After an hour’s break at his house across the road, he would be back, using over 1,000 balls for chipping and putting.
For fitness, visiting a nearby akhara twice daily for 30 minutes sufficed. The palms resting on a brick on either side, the target was to do 150 push-ups within 20 minutes, followed by lifting dumb bells, each weighing 6kg. Working on mental strength is a must in today’s scenario; for Mukesh, it came from practice.
“Working hard is what gives you confidence. If your grip isn’t right, what can a mental coach do? Today’s kids want to play good golf by improving their technique but are not ready to work hard.”
Mukesh beat Ali Sher in the playoff for his first pro win, and a cheque of ~16,600, at the 1989 Jodhpur Open. “That’s when I told myself I could be India No.1.” He accomplished it by winning the PGAI order of merit in 1999-2000.
Starting with that Jodhpur win, Mukesh made it a norm to reach Mhow and touch Nathu’s feet first before engaging with other family members. “Father blessed me and gave a baniya (trader’s) register and said you have to fill it (with newspaper clippings and certificates of his victories).”
Mukesh won many more order of merit titles, but each time his father’s words were the same. “What have you achieved? The challenge is to keep winning and maintaining the top spot.”
Mukesh’s biggest golfing moment came when he became the oldest winner on the Asian Tour at 51, at the 2016 Panasonic Open. More than his biggest pay cheque of $72,000, the words of his father are cherished the most.
“‘Finally, you have achieved something,’ he said. I had longed to hear this, but he didn’t say it earlier lest I relaxed.”
With career earnings of almost ~3.5 crore (the second highest) on the PGTI, money for Mukesh is a “facilitator” and a means of supporting his large extended family and those in need.
Importantly, golf has given him an identity. As he practices in the off-season—there is a practice area in front of his new house—neighbours, especially children, trickle in to watch.
It could well be that a golfer emerges from among the bystanders, and Mukesh is keen to ensure Mhow stays on the golf map.