The visiting Indian golf team got off on a good start but could not recover enough to claim top spot at the recently held ISPS Handa PGA World Cup Golf tournament in Melbourne.
The Metropolitan Golf Club in Oakleigh played host to 28 teams from various parts of the world for the prestigious US$7 million professional golf event.
Founded in 1953 this unique format world cup is contested by two-man teams representing their country. World ranked golf players compete for the title of Order of Merit Champion through the course of the season.
The Belgium team of Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry claimed the 2018 title by scoring a 4-under 68 to get to 23-under for the tournament and grab a three-stroke win.
India’s Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar nailed five birdies against three bogeys for their closing round of 70. They finished on 12 under par 276 to share the 10th spot in the tournament.
Lahiri and Bhullar hold a combined total of 16 victories on the Asian Tour, which includes 3 co-sanctioned wins on the European Tour.
2013 Arjuna Award winner Gaganjit Bhullar recently snapped the Fiji International trophy finishing with a six-under 66 and 14-under total of 274 to give him his ninth win on the Asian tour.
Lahiri who currently plays for the PGA, Asian and European tours, joined the top 100 in the official world golf ranking in 2014. He also qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics to compete at the Olympic Golf Course at Rio de Janeiro.
The pair had previously teamed up to play together at the World Cup of Golf event held at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in 2013.
Bhullar found the Metropolitan Golf course to be very different from Royal Melbourne. He considers the latter to be one of the toughest golf courses in the world from a professional golfer’s point of view.
The main challenge faced by them, this time round, was the inclement weather as constant rain and strong winds affected the first three days of play.
“It was one of the toughest weather conditions that I have faced in my golfing career,” said Bhullar after his four balls round on day 3.
Lahiri, however, felt that this year they came with more experience under their belt as professional golfers and that was an added advantage
Lahiri plays professional golf in a country obsessed with cricket but finds that the challenge is not cricket but golf itself. “Things may be different in terms of the public who view it, however, I don’t think India’s cricket obsession has affected our sport,” said Lahiri
“Playing any professional sport, the challenges are the same despite what the country may be obsessed with. We still have to put in the same hours to get to the world level that we are at and hopefully continue to move in that direction,” he said.
Lahiri is a regular player on the PGA Tour and he was also the Asian Tour Order of Merit champion in 2015.
Bhullar agrees. “Cricket does not affect our sport, however I do find inspiration from our cricketers,” he said.
Both were clearly excited about the prospect of watching the T20 match between India and Australia at the MCG as it coincided with their event in Melbourne.
According to Bhullar the Indian media’s coverage of golf needs improvement. “Anirban has toured with PGA for so many years; yet when he returns some people still ask him what else he does for a living,” he said in explanation.
“Media has not helped in educating our people about this sport and I hope in coming years better coverage will be provided and we golfers will get better recognition,” he added.
Having said that, they both felt that women’s golf has picked up considerably in the last five years in India.
Bhullar mentioned that the Indian women’s golf team now has an umbrella sponsor for their tours. He feels that players like Aditi Ashok, Tvesa Malik, Vani Kapoor and many other young Indian girls are playing really well.
“All they need is motivation and sponsorships where they can go out and play without thinking about expenses,” he said.
“Golf as a professional sport in India has its challenges but more so for the girls,” said Lahiri.
“The ladies tour hasn’t grown as much as it needs to grow, however it is heading in the right direction. More work is required at the grassroots and talent like Tvesa and Aditi are showing the way,” he said.
The young Indian golfers did not think it would be easy to catch up with leading teams like Belgium and Australia as they were already 9-10 shots ahead of them before the final day and it was a difficult gap to cover given the final format. They were, however, prepared to give it their best.
Lahiri summed it up saying they put in solid effort and did really well on Thursday and Friday but the weekend game was where they lost ground. “Sometimes when you push hard you actually end up pushing back,” he said
Lahiri would love nothing more than to have the chance to wear the inspirational international crest next year at the Presidents Cup 2019. His goal is to be back in Melbourne in 12 months’ time to reclaim history.