Twice in the space of as many weeks, India’s representation at prestigious continental golf championships threw up less than impressive results. At the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the best-placed Indian was tied for 38th place 14 shots behind the winner while the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship threw up a similar, unhappy outcome.
These were prestigious events – organised, funded and run by The Royal and Ancient, the spiritual centre and home of golf worldwide based in St Andrews, Scotland. The incentives in both cases were high – direct entry into two Major championships for the winning golfer, plus other enticements and rewards. Yet, a numerically-strong Indian presence failed to have any impact whatsoever at either event.
At the men’s event in mid-October at Chonburi outside Bangkok, Australia’s Harrison Crowe prevailed over China’s Bo Jin in a titanic battle on the final day, his winning score a 13-under par 275 to Bo’s 12-under 276. Two-time All-India Amateur winner Aryan Roopa Anand was tied for 38th place on one-over par 289 (75-69-74-71).
Memories of a second place finish in 2018 at Singapore by Rayhan Thomas were a distant memory.
For the record, Thomas, now pursuing a university degree in the United States, did not even make the 36-hole cut. In all, four of the seven Indians in the field did not make it past the second day at the AAC, as the event is widely known.
The following week at Pattaya, venue of the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship (WAAP), things were probably a shade worse. Mumbai teenager Nishna Patel was only one from a six-strong squad to play the weekend rounds (post the cut) and she was down in 46th place from the 50 qualifiers, 19 strokes adrift of the winner, Ting-Hsuan Huang of Chinese Taipei.
Some perspective here. At the first edition of the WAAP played at Singapore’s Sentosa Golf Club in 2018. Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul emerged winner in a play-off. She was then 15.
Four years later almost to the day, the Thai golfer, now a professional plying her trade on the Ladies PGA – the top rung of women’s pro golf – attained the top spot in the world rankings. In this time, Atthaya went from being the regional amateur champion to the best in the world.
At Chonburi, Japan, who are the dominant force on the Asia-Pacific amateur scene had four finishers in the top ten, and one just outside in tied 11th place. China put four golfers into the top 50. South Korea, hosts Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia all brought in better placings than the best-finishing Indian. At Pattaya the next week, it was not very different.
For a country whose golf heritage stretches all the way back to 1829, the oldest outside of Britain, these are not acceptable statistics. Worse, they suggest that Indian amateur golf’s parent body – the Indian Golf Union – has other priorities than seeing players appearing at such events do better with systemic steps to improve matters.
One key issue here is how the game is run, and teams prepared for international competition. Unlike top amateur countries in the Asia-Pacific region like Japan, Australia, South Korea and Thailand, India has no perspective planning in place to ensure long-term improvement in standards. There is no national coach or support staff travelling with the players to see their needs and requirements are attended to. No attempt is made to identify and groom talent – of which there is plenty at the junior level – in a step-by-step fashion. To put it bluntly, there is simply no investment in the sort if coaching programme needed to attain top-level results in international competition.
Wrote Dubai-based golf writer Joy Chakravarty from Chonburi, “This is about how golf is administered in a country, where we have still managed to find diamonds in the dirt like Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, Anirban Lahiri and Rashid Khan, despite the lack of facilities.
“It is the complete lack of planning, commitment, and intent which is the scary part… there is a complete dearth of vision and a remarkable prevalence of ineptitude and the inability to take on responsibility.”
If it has any long-terms plans to identify and hone junior talent over the long term, the Indian Golf Union has remained coy about it. In fact, the IGU finds itself in the news more often for its attempts to side-step government regulation on office-bearers’ terms and still avail of official funding than come up with some perspective planning and game development.
For its part, the government is clearly ready to support talent identified and recommended by national sports federations, provided it sees a clear road-map with identifiable targets. Aditi Ashok’s outstanding display at the Tokyo Olympics came and went and as of yet, there is no news about the establishment putting forward plans of any sort to seize the moment.
Under its flagship Target Olympic Podium scheme, the Sports Authority of India supports the country’s top-ranked golfers in its stated mission. There is no dearth of funds – the most commonly trotted-out excuse by sports federations and nothing stops the IGU from presenting plans to develop amateur golf as a stepping stone to further success, particularly with the Commonwealth Games added to the Olympics and the Asian Games as a medal sport.
Instead, there’s a stony silence.
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