Harpal Singh Bedi
New Delhi: Three-time Asian Tour winner Gaurav Ghei feels that Indian professional Golf has made rapid progress in recent years due to strong domestic backup and PGTI tour.
“Professional golf in the country has made huge strides in recent years which can be attributed to having a strong domestic tour in the form of the PGTI.
“The Professional Golf Tour India (PGTI) has over the last decade and a half provided an ideal platform for our Indian professionals to hone their skills before moving on to higher tours. It is a highly competitive tour and on many occasions there is not much difference between the depth of the fields on the Asian Tour and the PGTI.” he opined.
The 51-year Delhi based golfer, who represented India at the World Cup of Golf on three occasions (1997, 2003, 2007) and also bagged 17 titles on the domestic circuit, said his advice to youngsters who want to become professional golfers is simple, “You need to play it like a sport and enjoy it’. “That’s how you will get longevity and not burn out. If you have fun playing it then you don’t mind putting in the hard work and hitting balls all day. .”
Ghei secured a win at an Asian Seniors Tour event held in Bangkok, Thailand in October last year. He had also made it to the Final Stage of Qualifying of the European Senior Tour over the last two years.
Taking a walk down memory lane, the veteran golfer relived his career milestones while talking to PGTI. “I was never really serious about the game even though I loved the game and always played well as an amateur. I was a finalist at the All India Amateur twice.
Ghei who was No. 1 amateur golfer just a year before he turned professional in 1992, said, “I only started thinking about pursuing golf seriously when I passed out of college and had a choice to join either a residential MBA program which I got into or play professional golf”.
“I was ready to enroll at IMI , before I got a brainwave that I wanted to play professional golf. “I then turned pro in December 1991 and gave myself a year to see if I could play well and make a living out of it. I had a good finish, 10th or 11th, at my debut event in Mhow in January 1992. Thereafter, I played about seven to eight events from till April 1992 and had a top-5 in every event. The last event of the season was the ADDI Cup which I went on to win.
“Then I played three tournaments on the Malaysian Tour. I won the first of those three events, the Desaru Classic in Johor and had impressive finishes in the other two events as well. From then on there was no looking back for me, ” he said .
Ghei’s triumph at the Gadgil Western Masters 1995 was a watershed moment for Indian golf as it was the first time an Indian won on the Asian Tour. He achieved the feat with a sensational chip-in for eagle from 35 yards on the final hole piping compatriot Vijay Kumar.
Winning the Gadgil Western Masters was the most emotional moment for me in my career. I had been playing well all season and two weeks prior to Gadgil, I had been tied for the lead at the Dubai Creek Open on the last tee and hit my tee shot into the water to make double-bogey and finish fifth.
“After that to come to my home course DGC and win was very special. Gadgil offered the biggest ever prize money in India till that point.”
In 1996, he made international headlines when he defeated Colin Montgomerie, World No. 2 at the time, in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at the iconic St. Andrews golf course as India stunned the home team Scotland 2-1 in a best-of-three contest. The other two members of the Indian team were Jeev Milkha Singh and Ali Sher.
“It was an extremely windy day when we beat the defending champions Scotland. I defeated Monty (Montgomerie) 77 – 78 and then I remember Monty went to the press room and said that he just had a bad day but was still confident that his team was going to win. That’s when the journalists present in the press room pointed out that in fact India had won the encounter as Jeev Milkha Singh had won his playoff against Andrew Coltart after both were tied in regulation play.
“Even though we beat the home team we got so much love and respect and that made the occasion memorable. I remember when we entered the dining room that evening the likes of Nick Price got up and started clapping for us.”
The following year Ghei scripted history at the ‘home of golf’ Scotland once again as he became the first Indian to play at a Major after he qualified for the British Open 1997 that was held at Royal Troon.
“The Open has been my favourite event. As a kid, I always dreamt of playing at The Open. I played the qualifying on a Monday and finished second in the qualifier. By the time I got to know I had qualified it was around 7 pm. Next morning I was at Troon for the practice round. It was awesome just to be there and to soak in the occasion. Sharing a locker room with Phil Mickelson and seeing Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson across because they had the Champions locker room is something that will stay with me for life.
Ghei, who credits coach Claude Harmon for helping improve his ball-striking, had an outstanding season on the Indian domestic circuit in 1996-97 as he won five events and went on to clinch the Order of Merit title. To add to that he won the Asian Tour’s Johnnie Walker Asian Player of the Year Award in 1997. He enjoyed more success on the Asian Tour a few years later with victories at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters 2006 and Pine Valley Beijing Open 2007. “The win at the Pine Valley Beijing Open is the most cherished moment of my career.
Eleven years after winning Gadgil, I won the Mercuries Taiwan Masters and then came the win at Beijing a year later. I somewhere wanted to prove to myself that winning in Taiwan in 2006 wasn’t a fluke. That’s the reason the victory in Beijing was all the more sweet.
“Winning on Bent Grass greens in Beijing and that too on a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course was highly satisfying. The fact that Jack Nicklaus was actually present during the tournament week in Beijing was also something very special for me. I got to meet him on the driving range. I’ve always admired Nicklaus for having the best record at the Majors and also for the way he’s handled his family life, business and golfing career.”
Since the Delhi Golf Club reopened after the lockdown in May this year, the veteran is back on the course with his sights now set on qualifying for next year’s Senior British Open. HSB