Asian Games: Eyeing birdies and a few gold medals
A strong men's and women’s team will start in Hangzhou as one of the pre-tournament favourites
Golf became part of the Asian Games in 1982 in New Delhi and India started with a bang, winning the team gold as well as the individual gold and silver. Forty-one years later, history could repeat itself in Hangzhou.
A strong Indian men's and women’s team will start in Hangzhou as one of the pre-tournament favourites with a chance of adding to the three golds and three silvers that the nation’s golfers have won since that heady afternoon at Delhi Golf Club.
Now open to professional golfers, the men’s team features the in-form Anirban Lahiri, the ever-solid Shubhankar Sharma, the experienced Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia and the reliable Khalin Joshi.
The women’s team has Aditi Ashok, who is enjoying a career year in LPGA, and the youth and thrilling talent of Pranavi Urs and amateur Avani Prashanth.
The golf competition starts with Thursday’s first round at Westlake International Golf Course.
In the men’s competition, South Korea and Thailand will be India's biggest adversaries.
Korea has world No. 27 Sungjae Im and No. 40 Si Woo Kim, both multiple champions on the PGA Tour, and promising amateurs Yubin Jang and Wooyoung Cho in the team. Thailand has Phachara Khongwatmai, Poom Saksansin and Dantai Boonma in their team, all performing well in recent Asian Tour events.
In women’s, the presence of world No2 Ruoning Ying, a recent major winner, is sure to lift hosts China. But with countries like Korea, Japan and Thailand sending their amateur players, the door is wide open for India.
Ashok, who has risen to No. 47 in the Rolex Ranking, will spearhead the challenge in the women’s section. She has taken the last six weeks off, getting ready for the Asian Games.
Speaking to Hindustan Times from Hangzhou, Ashok, who came close to a medal in the Tokyo Olympics, said: “My preparation has been good. I took almost six weeks off before this week, so hopefully, the rest and practice will help. I’m looking forward to the tournament and hopefully, I can put together four good rounds.”
Prashanth, 17, recently made history when she became the first Indian to win the Queen Sirikit Cup, and then won a tournament on the LET Access Series.
The wide fairways of Westlake International has gladdened the Bengaluru Bomber, known for her power game.
“It’s a scoring course, wide fairways and soft greens, which are decently quick. The key would be approach shot placement through the week because the pins are separated by slopes so you have to be in the right quadrant to have easier putts,” said Prashanth.
Lahiri, who has been in sensational form lately with back-to-back second-place finishes in LIV Golf events in Bedminster and Chicago, reached Hangzhou late on Tuesday night after a 39-hour journey from the US.
He felt the after-effects on Wednesday and could play only 13 holes of practice. However, he was buoyant about his and the team’s chances.
“I think we have a great chance in both men and women’s. Shubhankar is playing outstanding golf. Both SSP and Khalin seem to be in good form, and I am not playing too badly, albeit for the travel. The girls are in very good form and both Aditi and Avani are having a phenomenal season. I honestly feel that if we all play to our potential, we should be able to come back with more than one medal,” said Lahiri.
“I am very tired right now, but I should be ok after a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s first round is going to be difficult and important, but I should be back in the groove by Friday.”
Three of the four scores count towards the team total on each day in men’s and two of three towards the women’s tally.
“Looking at the golf course and how it is set up, I’d say we need to be looking at upwards of 20-under team total, and in the high teens in individual competition. I have played a lot of team golf lately as part of Crushers GC, and I’d say the best way to put up a team total is when all four players play well. Obviously, the format gives you some breathing space if one of your teammates is not playing well, which can easily happen,” added Lahiri.
Sharma, who recently wowed the fans with his bogey-free final round in horrendous playing conditions to finish tied for eighth at the Open Championship, took last week off from his DP World Tour schedule to prepare for the Asian Games.
“I am really happy with the way I am playing right now. It was an important tournament in Europe (Open de France, on a golf course that will host the Olympics next year), but I thought it was important that I am rested and prepared for Hangzhou,” said Sharma, who started playing golf because of the influence of Lahiri and the insistence of Dr Tushar Lahiri, Anirban’s father.
“Golf can be a perplexing sport, and you can always get unlucky, but I believe we have a good chance of multiple medals. I have been watching the girls during practice, and they are looking very solid. Anirban is playing dream golf right now. I think we are ready.”