Aditi Ashok Lends Greatness to Indian Golf
Ranked 200 in the world, Aditi Ashok stunned a power-packed field to finish fourth.
The dream has ended. A thrilling climax brought the curtains down on some of the finest theatre Indian sport has ever seen. Aditi Ashok (-15) stood up to the mighty challenge of playing toe to toe with the current and former world number 1 golfers in the world, Nelly Korda (-17, Gold) of the USA and Lydia Ko (-16, Bronze) from New Zealand, taking the battle to the deep end of the sea. Mone Inami (-16, Silver) defeated Ko in a playoff for Silver. Aditi Ashok was inches from a medal before settling for a fourth-place finish. In doing so, she took an entire nation on a wild ride, leaving millions of people hanging for dear life to the strings on her golf bag.
At 5’8”, Aditi Ashok is a tall golfer. But with her performance in Tokyo 2020, the 23-year-old established herself as a modern giant in Indian golf.
And she is only beginning.
In Rio, she was the youngest golfer in the field, at just 18. With her second run in the Olympics, she kept the medal in play, making it a real prospect through to the final putt. In finishing fourth, she joins the illustrious company of legends such as Milkha Singh, PT Usha, Dipa Karmakar, and the Women’s Hockey team, who were all a whisker away from winning a medal for India.
Aditi stoked the aspirations of millions of young Indians through a sport that has barely registered in the minds of even the most ardent supporters of Indian Olympics, much like Karmakar, who brought gymnastics to the fore with her performances in Rio. In doing so, Aditi forced both seasoned media professionals and casual supporters to scramble for cover as they grappled with the nuances of a game that has remained under the radar for many Indians.
Her glorious run in Tokyo, with her doting mother Maheshwari on the bag may not change too much in Indian golf in the immediate aftermath, but it does set the tone for a renewed commitment from fans and administrators desperately looking for avenues for success in the Olympics. A medal may have eluded Aditi, despite being inches from an opportunity to fight for Silver, but her run this week has surely resuscitated broader interest in the sport of golf all across the country.
Aditi’s run in Tokyo underlines the great promise of this seasoned golfer. She is only 23 but already has two Olympics under her belt and five LPGA seasons. She is only going to get better as her confidence soars on the back of a sensational week of golf, which saw her contend for Silver through to the last putt on the 72nd hole. The Indian was lying second through 54 holes before being overhauled by Lydia Ko and Japanese Mone Inami, both women making six-under 65 in the final round. Aditi was steady on Saturday – she made five birdies on her card of 68, missing out on the playoff. In the end, she was separated from the medal by mere inches.
Incidentally, this isn’t the first time that our golfers rang the bell in a continental event. Lakshman Singh and Rajiv Mohta achieved Gold in the 1982 Asian Games. The duo also combined with Rishi Narain and Amit Luthra to win the team Gold. We had to wait twenty years for the next run of success, Shiv Kapur winning Gold again in Busan 2002. That was also the year in which Jyoti Randhawa became the highest-ranked golfer in Asia, marking another landmark for Indian golf on the international circuit.
A couple of Silvers from the team events in 2006 and 2010 Asian Games kept golf moving forward in India. Gaganjeet Bhullar, Joseph Chakola, Chiragh Kumar, and Anirban Lahiri came second in Doha while Rahul Bajaj, Abhijit Chadha, Rashid Khan, and Abhinav Lohan emulated the feat four years later in Guangzhou.
Jeev Milkha Singh emulated Randhawa in 2006, when he won four international events including the much-acclaimed Volvo Masters of Europe at the Valderrama as he rose to world number 29, the highest rank achieved by an Indian golfer. But no woman had ever won a medal for the country in either the Asian Games or the Olympics, before Aditi threatened to bring the roof down with her epic performance in Tokyo 2020.
On the women’s side, Indian golf has been enriched by the path-breaking efforts of golfers such as Smriti Mehra. She was the first Indian to practise her sport on the LPGA, the biggest tour for women’s golf. Several Indian golfers have also played on the Ladies European Tour, where Aditi already has three titles.
Compatriot Diksha Dagar, the 20-year-old who made her Olympic debut through a last-minute entry, has two LET victories too.
As the Olympics wind down and those that have represented India return to their respective professional circuits, the sport can only get healthier through their performances. Anirban Lahiri has also just played his second Olympics with Udayan Mane making his debut, just as Dagar. Lahiri plays on the PGA TOUR and Aditi is a regular on the LPGA. Many others, such as Tvesa Malik, Astha Madan, and Vani Kapoor also play golf in Europe. As do men like Shubhankar Sharma, Gaganjeet Bhullar, SSP Chawrasia, Ajeetesh Sandhu, and Shiv Kapur.
There is no doubt though that Aditi may have just produced the biggest impetus for golf in India. And we may only truly understand the impact of her performance in the years to come, when young girls breakthrough to the front and narrate how they picked up a club after watching Aditi on television during Tokyo 2020.
(Anand Datla is a Senior Editor with Golfing Indian.)
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