He's the new master

Chowrasia... his heart beats for golf.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Chowrasia’s mantra for success is simple. “The game should be kept simple because it is a mind game. If you think too much about it, it will become complicated,” he says. Rakesh Rao profiles the Indian Masters champion.

When Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia beat an illustrious field to become a surprise, yet worthy winner of the $2.5million Indian Masters at the Delhi Golf Club, the western media covering the first-ever European Tour event in India got busy collecting details about this “unknown golfer” from their Indian counterparts. They, however, did not have to wait for long to get a fair idea of the champion’s sincerity and simplicity.

Moments after his triumph, he was asked how his victory would help golf and golfers in India. And Chowrasia quickly replied: “It should help a lot of small boys to work harder on their golf and believe that if a short player like me can win such a big title, so can they.”

Chowrasia was not trying to be funny. The 29-year-old golfer from Kolkata was only being himself — simple and sincere. He is not the kind to come up with smart one-liners to impress the media. He lets his deeds speak for themselves.

Son of Ganesh Chowrasia, a member of the maintenance staff of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC), SSP, as Chowrasia is known in the golf circles, lived in a small hut near the ninth tee inside the golf course. “As a kid, I hardly played cricket. It was only golf. I would spend all day with friends, loitering around the course or being a caddie for members. Sometimes, the club allowed us to practise at the driving range and the putting green.

“I was really not interested in studies and I dropped out of school in the eighth standard. I decided to follow my heart. I made up my mind on making a living through golf,” said Chowrasia, who found spending 13 hours on the course more satisfying than spending a few hours in school.

His passion for the game saw Chowrasia make his professional debut in 1997 and finish joint runner-up to Arjun Atwal in the 1999 Indian Open at the RCGC course.

Talking of his initial days as a professional, Chowrasia said it was “horrible.” He went to play tournaments in South India, made the ‘cut’ in all the events but “came back feeling stupid.”

“I had spent all the money I had saved but the more I thought of the disastrous start, I became more determined to get better. I practised for over a month, sought financial help, came to Delhi and finished 24th in the Honda-Siel PGA Championship. That gave me Rs. 33,000, which was big money.”

He recalls his runner-up finish to Basad Ali in the 1998 Cynamid Open at the RCGC as a “great experience.” With the confidence of the Cynamid Open, Chowrasia went on to finish runner-up in the Wills Meerut Open, behind Uttam Singh Mundy, before securing the second place at the Indian Open.

Recalling his preparations ahead of the 1999 Indian Open, Chowrasia said that he worked hard on his short game “because that was what would have helped me as I was very short of the tee compared to others. On the first day of the Open, I brought a new Odyssey putter from the Royal Proshop. That was my first big investment in equipment. I putted from about 9 am till my tee-off time around noon. That helped because I putted well on all four days.”

Chowrasia revealed an interesting experience soon after he walked back to his friends after the presentation ceremony of the Indian Open. “I went back to this area where I used to hang around with my friends. The moment I walked in, there was total silence. I greeted my friends and they just looked at me. When I asked them what was the matter, one of my friends said, ‘Today, you have become a big player.’ I just laughed and assured them that I would remain the same.”

Though Chowrasia continued to win on the domestic tour, his next big chance came in 2006, but he lost to Jyoti Randhawa following a three-way playoff for the Indian Open title in Delhi. He missed a golden opportunity to win the title after messing up a short putt on the 18th green.

Nearly 17 months later, as destined, Chowrasia enjoyed his biggest moment at the same venue. “I played my best golf,” was how Chowrasia described his epoch-making final day card of five-under 67 that fetched him the single-biggest cheque ever won by an Indian in the country.

“On the final day, I came to the course two and a half hours before my tee-off time and spent a lot of time on the putting green. I concentrated a lot out there. When I was on the 18th green, I was actually thinking more about the putt than anything else because I made a few mistakes in the past there. I did not think about anything except the putt,” Chowrasia explained.

Chowrasia’s mantra for success is simple. “The game should be kept simple because it is a mind game. If you think too much about it, it will become complicated. So if you keep it simple, it’s better.”