Focus is on youngsters at Panasonic Open

Younger contenders like defending champion Chiragh Kumar, S. Chikkarangappa and Shubhankar Sharma, Rashid Khan, Himmat Rai, etc are expected to keep alive hopes of an Indian winning the Panasonic Open.

Jeev Milkha Singh Panasonic Open

Jeev Milkha Singh's last title win was at the 2012 Scottish Open.   -  Getty Images

Much of the country’s golfing landscape has changed from the days when Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa took turns to play the torch-bearers. These days, those youngsters who seriously took to golf inspired by the trio’s exploits, are making their presence felt on the Asian Tour.

Strange as it may sound, the trio is back in the Capital for the $400,000 Panasonic Open starting at the Delhi Golf Club on Thursday. Equally surprising is the fact that no one is talking about their chances in the field of 120 professionals from 20 countries.

Going purely by the numbers, these three professionals are the most successful on the list of international title-winners from India. Jeev (13 wins), Atwal (10) and Randhawa (9) hold the top three positions on the all-time Indian list.

No doubt, they have not beaten the weekend field in recent past. But all three have reasons to emerge as the ‘dark horse’ this week at the course they all know well.

For the record, Jeev’s last title came in the 2012 Scottish Open on the European Tour, Atwal won the 2014 Dubai Open and Randhawa’s last success came in the 2009 Thailand Open.

Jeev, joint runner-up at the Indonesia Open two weeks back, said, “That event has renewed my belief that I can still give these youngsters a run for their money and can add a few more wins.”

Of course, the motivation to win his first title here, continues to bring Jeev to the Delhi Golf Club course.

At a time when the younger contenders like defending champion Chiragh Kumar, S. Chikkarangappa and Shubhankar Sharma, Rashid Khan, Himmat Rai, etc are expected to keep alive hopes of an Indian winning this event, Atwal, 43, is hoping to use his course knowledge for a memorable showing here.

Atwal is placed 70th on the Asian Tour Order of Merit and needs a top-10 finish to retain full playing rights in the continent’s premier tour for 2017.

“This course is very tight. The number one key here is to hit as many fairways as you can. If you play from the shot grass, you are going to do well. If you start missing fairways, it’s basically a done deal for you. It’s all about hitting fairways here,” said Atwal.

In the absence of in-form Gaganjeet Bhullar, who this year won two titles of his eight career-titles by claiming the Donghae Open and Indonesia Open, and S.S.P. Chowrasia who beat the field in this season’s Manila Masters, prospects of a new, Indian champion cannot be ruled out.