COVID-19 delays golfers' return to greens

S. Chikkarangappa, Khalin Joshi, Rashid Khan and several others stand to lose prize money earnings and ranking points in the race to qualify for Tokyo Olympics.

Indian golfer S. Chikkarangappa during the TAKE Open Golf Championship in Bengaluru.   -  FILE PHOTO/K. MURALI KUMAR

 

Indian golfers, who feature only on the Asian Tour and Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), are stranded in a tough spot with no tournament action on the horizon. The likes of S. Chikkarangappa, Khalin Joshi, Rashid Khan and several others stand to lose prize money earnings, and more crucially, ranking points in the race to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Shubhankar Sharma and Anirban Lahiri, the only Indians on the restarted European and PGA Tours respectively, have a big advantage over their countrymen in this regard.

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“Not being able to play tournaments is a big concern. If Shubhankar or Anirban have a few good weeks in Europe and USA, they will earn enough ranking points to qualify for the Olympics. I have nothing against my friends Shubhankar and Anirban, but I’m disappointed that I cannot do anything to improve my own situation,” a worried Chikkarangappa told Sportstar on Wednesday.

Rashid, India’s top-ranked golfer, faces a similar dilemma. Like many other Indians, Rashid last competed in March (Bandar Malaysia Open), just before COVID-19 concerns forced the Asian Tour to come to a standstill.

Rashid Khan.   -  FILE PHOTO/ GETTY IMAGES

 

Khalin, meanwhile, is desperate to get back into championship action. So much so that he is not concerned about the risk of contracting COVID-19 during travel or tournament play. “If a tournament starts tomorrow, I will not hesitate to play. I could contract COVID-19 even while sitting at home; no place is entirely safe. In this situation, it is better to travel and play tournaments. My earnings have dropped to zero; my ranking is going to go down. Those of us who are not playing in Europe or USA are badly affected. We have no confirmation yet on when the Asian Tour and PGTI will resume. It may restart only in 2021,” Khalin said.

Khalin Joshi. FILE PHOTO/ SUDHAKARA JAIN   -  FILE PHOTO/ SUDHAKARA JAIN

 

Chikkarangappa explained that a possible solution is for the Asian Tour to identify one safe venue and conduct back-to-back tournaments there. “This is what is being done on the European Tour. With the Olympic qualification window ending on June 21 next year, it is a race against time," Chikkarangappa stated.

Among the women, Aditi Ashok and Diksha Dagar were the leading contenders for Olympics spots when the International Golf Federation put a freeze on rankings in March. While Diksha is set to travel to the United Kingdom to compete in the British Open and Scottish Open, Aditi — the only Indian on the LPGA Tour — is yet to return to tournament action.