The Indian Open: An Amateur in Wonderland

It’s that time of the year again! The Delhi Golf Club, the Mecca of Indian Golf, gets transformed into a golf wonderland. Ahead of the first round of the tournament tomorrow, our very own Tarun Ghogale, who played in the Indian Open in 2006 and 2009 as an amateur, takes the time to tell us about his experience of the tournament and his predictions for this year’s event… 

 
Tarun…My earliest memory of the DGC was when I when I was a student and I was allowed to play the B course. I remember the first time I played a full round on the A course. It was a spiritual experience ending with me losing around ten golf balls in the famed bushes or ‘Jhadis’ as they are fondly called!

As a young golfer it was always my dream to play in our National Open and at the age of 24 I got my first opportunity. It was 2006 and I was one of the six amateurs from the country to be selected to participate in the championship. I was on cloud nine when I received the letter confirming my participation. With the joy came a lot of anxiety as well as this was the biggest golf tournament in India and it was to be telecast live on all major sports channels. I was determined to put on a good show and started working on my game with my coach Mr. Digraj Singh.

The Indian Open week begins on Mondays for most players who are looking to get two to three rounds in before round one. I had decided to play on the Monday and Tuesday with my buddy Shaurya Singh who was also one of the amateurs participating. We were at the course very early on Monday and I noticed that everything looked different- in a good way! The first tee was transformed into an amphitheatre and tee box looked like a stage. I signed my first and only autograph that morning and I was feeling pretty good about myself.

I had been advised by many fellow golfers that to score well at this course it was important to play holes 3, 9, 13, 16 and 17 without making a mistake. Putting is always a key factor at the DGC and one generally got a lot of putts between ten to fifteen feet as the pin positions were not very accessible. The green speed is anywhere between eleven and twelve on the stimpmetre and getting accustomed to the pace takes a bit of time. The practice rounds were fun I was just enjoying being part of it all – the hospitality areas for the players, the practice facilities, the new changing rooms and of course the press conferences.

By the time Wednesday came reality started to sink in and I actually was very nervous when I started thinking about the first shot of the day. Luckily I had my friend Aditya Bhandarkar on my bag who was a light hearted guy who had a fantastic sense of humor. The draw was out by Tuesday evening and I was paired with two other Indian golfers and we were to start at 12.45 from the front nine. We were greeted with a heavy downpour on Thursday morning and predictably the tee offs were delayed by about an hour or so. By the time my name was called out by the starter it was already half past one and I was wondering if we would be able to finish the round that day. The stands were full and my parents, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Raj Randhawa and Anirban Lahiri were around to witness my tee shot. I had opted for a driving iron as it was important to find the fairway with my opening shot. I must say I barely managed to put the ball on the tee and the two practice swings that I made were all a blur. Luckily I hit the ball down the middle and I was off to a good start. After making pars on the first three holes I made an incredible par on number four and was level par till the seventh. On the par five eighth I made a solid birdie and the made an amazing save for par on nine which gave me a lot of confidence. I was one under at the turn and feeling very good about my game. Another birdie came on the twelfth and at that point I felt I could actually go low. However the sun was setting and the visibility was lessening and I knew we would have to finish the round next morning. I made another birdie on fourteen to go three under and saw my name flash on the leader board at 23rd position. I was on the seventeenth green putting for birdie in near darkness and I could have chosen to come next morning to finish the putt. However I chose to finish out only to three putt from ten feet and finish the day two under after sixteen holes. I barely had time to think about what had happened and I was out early next morning to finish my last two. There was no doubt that the three putt the previous evening had affected me and I went out to finish the last two holes with a double bogey each to end up with a two over par 74 and in 60th place on the cut line. I teed off for my second round around nine thirty and it was a day of so close yet so far. I ended the day with a 77 which included three putting on three occasions and missing the cut by three shots. I was totally distraught and I rued my mistake on the sixteenth on day one. I had another opportunity to play in the Open on 2009 but I was struggling with my back and my game by then and shot rounds of 81 and 74 to disappear into oblivion.

 
The course for the Open is set up completely different from what it is during the rest of the year. For a start the course is closed for regular play two weeks before the championship. The maintenance army of the club get to work on the divots, pitchmarks, bunkers with complete aggressiveness and by the time we come to opening day the course is in immaculate condition. This year my buddy Gagan Verma has put in a lot of work to ensure that the course is in top shape. Gagan has been one of the best ever amateur golfers in India and has represented the country in almost every International tournament. He has always told me that 14th, 15th and 16th are our very own Amen Corner and many a championship has been won or lost here.

Going purely by form and confidence I have a strong feeling that Anirban Lahiri will defend his title this week. After playing six weeks on the PGA Tour he is looking relaxed and I believe that a win year could actually help him in his preparation for Augusta. The likes of Jyoti Randhawa, Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal can never be written off and my gut feeling says that we will have an Indian winner this year as well.

If DGC is a wonderland then I am surely Alice!