Rahil Gangjee buries ghost of the past with Panasonic Open golf title

Indian golfer Rahil Gangjee pulled off a thrilling one-shot victory to end 14-year title drought after the Volkswagen Masters title in 2004.
Rahil Gangee won a golf tournament after 14 long years, at the Panasonic Open in Osaka.(Asian Tour/Twitter)
Rahil Gangee won a golf tournament after 14 long years, at the Panasonic Open in Osaka.(Asian Tour/Twitter)
Published on Apr 22, 2018 05:31 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Robin Bose

Since his days on the Web.com Tour, Rahil Gangjee developed a habit that has held him in good stead. No matter the mood he wakes up in, standing at the tee box evens out emotions. Starting the Sunday of Panasonic Open Golf Championship, a shot off the lead, there were few expectations given the form of late.

That changed as the day wore on at the Ibaraki Country Club near Osaka, Japan. By the time he arrived on the 18th green, the head was spinning. On one hand was the looming thought of a 14-year title drought on the Asian Tour, on the other, the times when he was in a position to contend but fell short. Then the immediate task of sinking the putt for birdie that he said would “wipe the slate clean (of all the baggage)”. “I was shaking for the last putt, it feels great but right now the mind is all over the place,” said Rahil after the one-shot victory with a four-day total of 14-under-par 270.

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Another habit, older than the one he picked up in the US, was of jotting down statistics since his junior days. The enormity of the occasion will sink in, especially in light of the hard journey since his breakthrough win in 2004. A couple of strong seasons on the Asian Tour and two titles on the Professional Golf Tour of India hardly justified the billing of a “prodigious talent” after the Volkswagen Masters, China, title in 2004.

Taking all of it and the tag of under-achiever with a smile, there were times when the 39-year-old doubted himself, even while he hit the bunker shot on the 18th to within 10 feet of the pin on Sunday, but did not let go. “I’ve been putting my head down and practicing more. That has made the difference this week,” he said proudly.

Rahil’s run in the wilderness has ended, but he will never tire of narrating the lessons he got in the US. The stint was a drain on the pocket, thinking of it still “makes him go weak in the knees”, but there are no regrets. The lessons learnt were “invaluable” and the cutthroat competition sent him searching for methods to handle emotions. It had to be done quickly, “the weight can crush you”, he reminisced.

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Investing his savings in pursuance of a dream where he envisioned a career eventually on the PGA Tour, Gangjee stuck it out for two seasons (2011 and 2012) but with the odds mounting, hope slipped away. Focusing away led him to neglect engagements in Asia and even at home. Bereft of playing rights, it was “hitting rock bottom”, as he calls it. Picking up from the scratch, yes, the emotions were in check and with some help from his mind trainer, Gangjee clawed back.

Closer to time, there was little to cheer about as well. But Gangjee did not forget to tell himself “where I’ve come from”, striving on with the words, “Stand up and go for it, play well.”

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021