A fighter all the way

A big win… Chowrasia with the trophy after claiming the Avantha Masters in 2011.-SANDEEP SAXENA

The Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) is getting bigger. The prize money now has increased and the players are more focused. If not (for the prize money), who will come, asks Shiv Chowrasia. By K. Keerthivasan.

As a teenager, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia realised that his future is in golf. Seeing top golfers such as Firoz Ali, Rafaq Ali and Basad Ali play at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, where his father was a greenskeeper, Chowrasia developed an instant liking for the sport.

At the age of 14, he took part in his first India Pro Tour. From thereon, Chowrasia grew up steadily despite having his share of disappointments. Today, he is one of the most popular pro golfers from India and has been performing consistently well on the European Tour.

Chowrasia was in Chennai recently at the invitation of H. R. Srinivasan, the Vice-Chairman of Take Solutions Ltd., for which the 34-year-old golfer is the brand ambassador. He trained young golfers at the Cosmo-TNGF course.

In a chat with Sportstar, Chowrasia speaks about his game, his struggles and his ambition to compete again in the U.S. PGA Tour.

Question: How was your experience on the European Tour?

Answer: I am getting better. I have been playing on the Tour for five years and I see that every year I am improving.

How has the past year been for you?

After May-June last year, my game started getting better. Initially, it didn’t take off. In the Johor Open, Scottish Open and the BMW Open I did better.

Are you happy with the way things have gone so far for you this year?

The three weeks in the Middle East (Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and the two weeks in South Africa were good. I tied the course record in Abu Dhabi with a 65 in the third round. In Abu Dhabi, the wind conditions were tough; they were getting tougher with each day. Both Tiger (Woods) and Rory (McIlroy) missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, while I finished 17th. I have played five tournaments so far in 2013 and they have all been very good.

You had a tough childhood…

It was tough, but golf made it easy for me. When I started (playing golf) there was only one club in Kolkata — the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RGCG). My father being a greenskeeper at the course, I got to play golf. Otherwise, it would have been impossible. Feroz Ali, Rafiq Ali and Basad Ali, all top players, used to play at the RCGC. I have been playing here for 13 years. I played my first tournament when I was 14 years old. It was a pro event called Warren — a tea company I guess — tournament. I played very badly and then realised that I needed to practise harder. My family’s financial situation was not good. I realised that if I have to do something, I should do it well. Sunil Law of RCGC helped me; he gave me golf equipment. My brother was a caddie. After he saw me play, he too gave me golf equipment and asked me to practise hard. As a caddie, I used to get Rs. 600 per month — sometimes more. I used to save as much as I could and play in pro tournaments on the Indian Tour.

Did you ever think you would come this far?

Yes. My life as a professional golfer improved after playing in India. My game improved and my goals too changed. To play in the U. S. PGA Tour again is my ambition now. I had played twice, in 2008 and 2011, in the PGA in Doral (U.S.) following my two wins on the European Tour (Indian Masters, 2008, and Avantha Masters, 2011). But in the last five years, I have been playing only in Europe.

Is the Indian Tour getting better or lagging behind?

The Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) is getting bigger. Earlier it was not so. The prize money now has increased and the players are more focused. If not (for the prize money), who will come?

How difficult was it for you to choose golf as a career?

When I was 15, my mom warned me that golf was a rich man’s game. I told her that I was only playing in India. She said, ‘Bewakoof, it’s a rich man’s game; don’t play it’. At the age of 18, I started playing regularly in India. For three years, I practised hard. Every single day I used to practise. Some days were boring, but I knew my future lay in golf. I didn’t study; I stopped studying when I was 15 years old.

How was your life as a caddie?

It was okay. For three years, I used to work as a caddie and practise at the same time. I used to be a caddie from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and then practise from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. My father once told me, ‘you are making a big mistake; leave it.’ But I saw a dream. I wanted to become a golfer. I didn’t listen to anybody.

You won your first title in 2001 (the Singhania Open in New Delhi). Do you think it came a bit late since you became a professional in 1997?

I think it came at the right time. I learnt golf on my own, without the help of any coach. Considering that, I am happy.

How did you manage funds in your early days?

Money didn’t come easily. I saved whatever I could. I saved money when I played outside India. The year 2006 was the first time I played outside India (the Pakistan Open in Karachi).

Are you happy with the way your career has progressed — two European Tour and 10 Indian Tour titles?

With the two European Tour titles, my confidence has grown. I have time on my side. The European Tour has taken me to a different level. I don’t feel any pressure. I get a feeling that I belong there. I don’t panic anymore.

More and more caddies are become players. Is there any special reason for this?

Earlier, there was no concept of professionals in Indian golf. Where will you play golf if you want to? Now, the Indian Tour has lots of money. More and more caddies are taking up pro golf. Facilities have become better. Now there are many junior programmes. In Kolkata, there are golf academies and people go to schools to hunt for talent. Indrajit Bhalotia (one of India’s leading pro golfers) is going to schools scouting for talent.

What are the areas you think you have improved as a golfer?

Each year I realise that I am playing better. Pritam Saikia has been my personal coach for the last five years and has played a part in my success. He has made some minor technical changes to my game that has helped me, like changes in posture and grip. He takes videos of my games and fine-tunes my technique.

Who are your favourite golfers — Indian and foreign?

Shankar das is my favourite. There are lots of young players coming up. Foreign players are technically better. Tiger (Woods) belongs to a different level altogether. I like Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

Vijay Singh was banned recently for taking a banned substance. Do you think Indian golfers have to be careful?

Indian golfers are not into doping. But I feel there should be random testing in India as the tour is getting bigger. There is no random testing now. In other international tours it has already started.