Sameer Shaikh, Sagar Raghuvanshi tee up Pune’s big drive for golf stardom
The meteoric rise of golf as a professional sport among youth in India is setting the stage for the sport to gain ground in the country. Shubhankar Sharma’s smooth drive to become the youngest Indian to play the Masters only reaffirms the fact that now India has golf’s fairways in sight.
Only three other Indians have made it to golf’s greatest contest - the Augusta Masters - Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Anirban Lahiri.
Shubhankar’s tee-off into the global rankings realised every young Indian golfer’s dream. Pune, too, is all set to test the solid iron play of Indian golfing professionals at the Pune Open Golf Championship 2018, to be held from April 10-13.
With a cash prize of Rs 30 lakh, the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) tournament will see emerging golfers compete to showcase India’s growing stature in the game. Thirty-year-old Sameer Shaikh and 26- year-old Sagar Raghuvanshi are rising stars from Pune. At 80th rank on the PGTI tour, Sameer, whose home course is the Poona Golf Course, where the tournament is being held, is aiming for a top 10 finish.
Sameer became a pro in 2011 and has since been etching Pune’s name in the national golf circuit. Sagar Raghuvanshi, who turned pro in 2014, is another addition to what the city offers to the game.
Days before the PGTI tour, Sameer tees off a practice round with a rather rustic charm to his swing. He was introduced to golf at the age of 13 as a fore caddie (fore-caddie gives a hole description and then walks ahead to the spot where the players tee shots). His first taste of the thrill of the game was at the Indian Golf Union (IGU) Junior tournament in 2011, after which there was no looking back for this fore caddie-turned pro, whose story personifies the rags to riches dream.
“I came to Pune looking for work as a fore-caddy, but the game grew on me. It is an expensive game, but people like Anand Pandit (golfer and builder) and Sunil Dalal, saw the potential in me and sponsored me for various tournaments. That’s how I have been playing this rather taxing game,” says Sameer.
Sagar Raghuvanshi, who comes from a family of professional golfers believes that earlier there was no one who Pune could look up to in terms of golf, but now the scene is changing. “Since, I come from a golfing family, I have been playing golf for a very long time, but I never considered it a career prospect. My uncle, Mukesh Sharma, who is a golfing legend himself, and my father Dinesh Raghuvanshi, asked me to pursue the game when I played the IGU junior tournament in Bengaluru at the Eagleton golf resort. I ranked second and that’s when I started taking the game seriously,” said Sagar, who currently has the B card of the qualifying tour (rank 48) of the PGTI tour.
Currently, preparing for the PGTI tour with gruelling practice rounds with golfing professionals Mukesh Kumar and Dinesh Raghuvanshi, Sagar is aiming for a top 5 finish if the game goes as per expectations during the tournament.
“The course is tight and I am hoping to keep the ball in the fairway in order to maintain a good game,” he says.
Poona Golf Course
The Poona Golf Course, where the tournament is being held, underwent an upgradation in 2016. “The course has occupied the status of one of the best courses in the country. The PGTI representative was here for a review of the course before the tournament and he suggested certain changes, which have been made. It is certainly an honour to hold PGTI tournaments at our golf course in the city,” said captain of the Poona Golf Course, Narotam Chowdhary.
“Earlier, when the professional circuit matches happened, players used to think that Poona Golf course is an easy course to play, but with upgradation, changes are visible in the game. The layout remains the same, but the green design and lines have changed, and hazards have been introduced in order to challenge the players,” added Sameer.
“The courses in Pune are slowly rising to the level of the professional circuit and in a few years time, we will definitely see more players emerging from the city,” said Sagar.
A game for the masses?
Golf, which once remained an elitist game, is now coming becoming a sport within the reach of the masses. But, for golf to make a mark, there is an imminent need for facilities like driving ranges, training academies and public courses to promote the game at a young age in the city.
“Players from Delhi and Bengaluru are currently leading the professional circuit in India because there is a golfing atmosphere in those cities with various academies training many players,” says Sameer Shaikh. “There is a need for public golf courses in the city in order to promote the sport. Public golf courses like the ones in Delhi and Chandigarh, can be accessed by budding players and hence, these cities are producing winners. Currently, infrastructure has to be built to make golf more accessible and affordable,” says Col AK Majumdar (retd), a National Golf Academy of India certified ‘Class A’ coach. Currently, one can see children from the age of 2 to 8-year-olds learning golf under Majumdar’s supervision.
The Poona Golf Course is the go-to golf course in the city for city players. Boasting of over 700 members, the captain of the course, Narotam Choudhary, says, “The number of members is increasing every year. This shows the rising interest for the game in the city. There are many who are making their kids take up the sport at a very young age.” Majumdar believes that not everybody can excel in the game. “There are many who play the game, but very few who make it to the top because golf is a very technical game and you need to put in hard work and dedication along with your time. Only then, will the city be able to produce good players. The captain of the Poona Golf Course also believes that passion is the key to the game. “It has been 46 years and I haven’t missed a single day off the course. Passion drives this game forward.”
So, when youngsters are asked the question as to why so many players fail to make it to the pro circuit, they say, “The game requires your full attention. Every course is different and even if your form is good, it doesn’t guarantee you a win. Poona Golf Course is my home course, I play here almost the entire year, but that doesn’t mean that I can excel on the match day. It’s a game of the mind, how we handle pressure and also what the course has to offer that particular day. The lines of the greens change, the wind speed is different every day. So, basically it is you competing against yourself,” said Sameer.
“The game is only picking up right now in the city. There are very few golf courses in the city available and affordable for everyone. Oxford golf course is extremely good, but is very expensive and its very rare that a player from a middle-class background goes to the Oxford Golf Course. But, now there are many Pune players on the amateur circuit. What Pune lacks is driving ranges - Delhi, Chandigarh, Bengaluru - all have brillant, long driving ranges where one can practice the game, which is essential to excel. This is the biggest issue in Pune,” said Sagar.
Sameer is hopeful that Pune will be the next hub of golf after Delhi, Chandigarh and Bengaluru.
Meet the coaches
Laurence Brotheridge, director of instruction, Leadbetter Academy.
Laurence Brotheridge, who is the director of instruction at the David Leadebetter Academy, believes that the more players Pune has taking up the game at a young age, the more is the probability of stars coming from the city.
Pune is the only city in the country to be blessed with one of the leading academies in golf - the David Leadbetter Academy. Laurence believes that within 10 years we will see a new crop of elite players emerging not only from Pune but from Maharashtra as well. “Mostly, I see players taking it up as a hobby, to spend time outdoors and in the fresh air over here at the Oxford Golf Resort. At the same time, the younger generation is taking it more seriously, especially after the success strikes of Aditi Ashok and Shubhankar Sharma at the international level. I actually see quite a lot of women playing/taking lessons here. Also, our growing stable of junior players at the academy are all standouts and a few of them will be big names in 10 years in Indian golf,” adds Laurence.
“The coach only provides the blueprint, motivation and nurturing aspects, the player contributes the most in terms of their work ethic, desire, talent and plain old hard work,” said Laurence. But, the coach also says that a little fun is important for the game.
“If you’re not having fun then what’s the point. Too many people take the game too seriously and expect to play consistently well every week, they in turn keep searching for new ideas and new swings and new tips every week, which is ironic in itself. The sooner you can accept that it is not a game of perfection, the sooner you’ll become relaxed and the game will be more enjoyable,” says Laurence.
Mantra- Have fun
Best course - Oxford Golf Course
Single-club tournament - 7 iron
Short game or long game - Short game
Col AK Majumdar (retd), a National Golf Academy of India certified ‘Class A’ coach
For this Armyman, golf was introduced to him as a part of his job being in the Engineers group, who usually maintain Army Golf Courses across the country. Now, AK Majumdar devotes his time to the sport as a coach.
For Majumdar the key to the game is discipline. “You have to be dedicated to this game as it is very taxing and consumes all of your time. You must be ready to devote yourself to it in order to succeed,” said Majumdar, who has setup a small training area at his residence to train children. Eight-year-old Aditi Kapse regularly visits Majumdar’s training area and has developed a liking for the game. “I love playing this game and I come to practice here every day. I also go to the golf course to play sometimes,” says Aditi.
“I have been a sportsman all my life. Golf is a game where not everybody can excel. You need to understand the science behind the game - kinetics, biomechanics and geometry - otherwise you can’t play well,” said Majumdar. He believes that currently the city and the country need better coaches, more public golf courses and academies, and awareness in order to promote golf.
Mantra - Balance of mind
Best courses - DLF golf course, Gurgaon
Single-club tournament - 7 iron
Short game or long game - Short game