Aditi Ashok: The new sporting sensation

History created, Aditi has already put the win behind her, thinking more about the future. She has two more LET events left for the year — in Qatar and Dubai — and the LPGA Q School finals, and she is looking forward to them.

Crowning glory... Aditi Ashok with the Hero women's Indian Open golf trophy in Gurugram.   -  PTI

An ever-so-slightly-dazed look in her eyes, a small toss of the cap and the customary hug with her competitors were all that Aditi Ashok could manage after ending the third and final round of the Women’s Indian Open on Sunday.

The magnitude of successfully sinking a four-foot putt would take its own sweet time to register on the 18-year-old who had just created golfing history at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurugram.

Those four feet on the 18th hole of the famed Gary Player-designed course mapped the distance the marquee competition for women’s golf in India had covered since its inception in 2007, coming a full circle at the same venue where Irina Brar and Meghna Bal had finished tied-fourth in the first-ever international professional event in the country a decade ago.

 

Since then, several Indian women have been in the reckoning for winning the only Ladies European Tour-sanctioned professional golf event in the country before slipping at the end and then disappearing forever, the last one to do so being Vaishavi Sinha.

Placed against this context, Aditi’s achievement not only marks a giant step forward for women’s golf in India but also mirrors the growing comfort of Indian sportswomen in elite company.

“It’s been 10 years for the tournament, this is the 10th Indian Open so that itself speaks about how long it’s lasted. It means a lot to win this. More girls have a chance to take golf as a career now than there were five years ago. That’s a good change and hopefully with my win there will be a lot more girls wanting to play golf,” Aditi said after the victory, calm and composed except for the smile that she always has regardless of the result.

It has definitely been long enough to get a home  winner. For Aditi herself, it has been a sensational 2016, to say the least. Last year around this time, the Bengaluru girl was more concerned about her school exams, unsure of when she would turn professional. She finally did in January this year and since then, it has only been an upward journey. She has qualified for the final stage of the LPGA Qualifying School, is in the top-10 of the LET rankings, tops the race for the LET Rookie of the Year with earnings over €100,000 and has now become the first Indian ever to win a title on the LET. All this was topped by a maiden Olympic appearance in Rio this year, earning the honour of being the only Indian woman golfer to do so. All this while still in her teens.

Her caddie Jesus Mozo, whose sister Belen was in the same leader group on the final day and in contention for the title till the final shot, is proud of his player. “She is so young and still she is so mature in her game and her mind. That is what I noticed on the course all three days. She knows what to do and she is patient. She is very good, I am very happy she  won,” the Spaniard said, adding that he would love to be with her through the rest of the season but it wasn’t decided, yet.

That’s also because Aditi has often had her father Ashok around with the bag, including at the Olympics, providing more fatherly advice and support than anything substantial in terms of her game. As an amateur, that support helped her more than anything else while criss-crossing the world, gaining precious experience.

Starting at the age of five and playing her first round at six, Aditi has been around a golf course for most of her life. It has helped that the Bangalore Golf Club has supported her all through, along with the Karnataka Golf Association, something that she admits has been a big factor in her continued growth. That, and parental support. Unlike several other star-parents, however, the Ashoks firmly refuse to share the spotlight with their star daughter, preferring to stay in the background.

“Parental support is very important, I would say  it’s almost 80% of all requirements,” Aditi admitted, adding that her international exposure and successes, both as an amateur till 2015 and a professional this year, have been possible only because her parents ensured she participated in as many tournaments as possible. She has already taken part in 13 events so far, with two more to go. To put in perspective, the only other Indian woman with a current LET card is Neha Tripathi, who has participated in just one other event before this. To stay on the pro tour isn’t easy and Aditi knows she has been lucky to get the support.

It also helps her to stay in control of her emotions and concentrate only on the job at hand, something that was visible throughout the final round. She had already made history by leading the scores after Round 2 — the first Indian to do so — but she knew her job wasn’t over. “I think I’m always calm. I did not have a great front nine so I knew I had to be patient on the back. I was lucky on the 18th but I had been unlucky earlier so I guess it was the course kind of giving it back to me. I’ve had a lot of good finishes at the Indian Open and to finally get the job done feels good,” she said even as the kids around kept screaming out her name.

It isn’t over, though. History created, Aditi has already put the win behind her, thinking more about the future. She has two more LET events left for the year — in Qatar and Dubai — and the LPGA Q School finals, and she is looking forward to them. “I guess it will sink in, in a few hours or when I reach home,” was all she said when asked about her achievement.

For now, though, the teenager from Bengaluru is busy plotting her road ahead to bigger successes.