JEEV RAISES THE BAR

After the Volvo Masters, Jeev Milkha Singh has set his sights on the Majors. "Next year, I will try and make a mark in the Majors and of course, get on to the US Tour. That's where every golfer wants to be," he says in a chat with Rakesh Rao.

Jeev Milkha Singh stunned an elite field to capture the crown in the Volvo Masters in Spain and become the first Indian to win on the European Tour. Without doubt, the triumph is one of the biggest in the history of Indian sports. And by Jeev's own admission, he never expected to win it. Yet, it was a just reward for all the hard work he had put in for over a decade as a professional golfer.

The victory enabled Jeev to climb up in the world rankings, from No. 144 to a career best No. 77.

Currently, Jeev tops the Asian Tour Order of Merit besides being 19th on the more lucrative Japanese Tour. He finished the European Tour in the 16th place and took his winnings from the season to over Rs. 10 crore.

The morning after his Volvo Masters victory, Jeev spoke to Sportstar from Sotogrande, Spain, before rushing off to catch a flight to Fukuoka to play in the Asahiryokuken Yomiuri Memorial tournament on the Japanese Tour.

Question: Has the Volvo Masters success sunk in?

Answer: Not yet. I guess it will take a couple of days. For me personally, it will open many doors. For Indian golf, I am sure it will give a new identity. It is great for everyone connected with Indian golf. It feels great that I could show the world that Indian golfers too could perform well on the big stage.

Could you recapitulate those final moments leading up to your triumph?

Those were the best moments of my career. All day I had not seen the leaderboard. I knew I was doing well but did not know where I stood on the leaderboard. After I hit my second shot on the 17th hole (par-5) and started walking towards the green where my ball had landed 12 feet from the hole, a crowd of over 4,000 roared in appreciation. I could sense that I was in with a chance. Though I missed an eagle, the birdie helped me stay in front. But I did not know that I led by two strokes until I checked out the leaderboard on the 18th green. I took no chances and bogeyed from eight feet to win.

Did you ever expect to win such a big title?

Honestly, I never expected it. But when I won it, it was great for Indian golf, too. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have played a part in putting India on the world golfing map. This win is the biggest of my career and has earned me a five-year exempt (from qualifying) on the European Tour. The title should also help in getting me some sponsors' invite to play on the US Tour.

To what would you attribute your consistently good performances in 2006?

I think they have a lot to do with the change in attitude. Earlier, I used to be pretty much result-oriented which I should not have been. That brought a lot of pressure on me since I was looking only to win. Today, I let things happen. I concentrate more on the process and the routine. Now I am aware what I can control. As you can see, it has worked for me and the results are coming.

How has experience changed your attitude?

I think with so much of experience, and at my age I have matured a great deal. I have more patience now and take one shot at a time. I know, today I am on a high. But tomorrow, I will go down and try to come up again. That's part of any professional golfer's career. The sooner one understands this, the better it is for him.

How do you cope with the different conditions on the Asian, Japanese and the European tours?

Well, Asia is hot and the greens are much slower. It is much different in Japan where the greens are definitely the best in the world. In Europe, the weather conditions play a major role. The weather, which can change every hour, and the wind pose a different kind of challenge. So, when you play in Europe, you hit the ball low to minimise the wind factor. But in the US, to succeed you have to be a good striker of the ball. You have to hit high since there is a lot of rough and the fairways are narrow.

My experience of playing in different continents and conditions has helped me a lot. It has been a great learning experience for me. Today, I am prepared to play whatever the weather condition. But what really affects my game is the travelling. Jetlag has often prevented me from being in the best of shape at the start of tournaments. But I know, it is part of my profession and I have to cope with it.

On what areas have you worked more?

I have worked a lot on my swing, with my friend Amritinder Singh being of great help. Driving is another area where I have improved tremendously. Chipping and putting have been good this season. With continuous work, I'll get better and stronger. I still have a lot of work to do.

What are your goals?

I want to do really well in the HSBC Masters and the Hong Kong Open in the coming weeks. I believe that when the going is good one should make the most of it. Next year, I will try and make a mark in the Majors and of course, get on to the US Tour. Eventually, that's where every golfer wants to be.

When do we get to see you in action in India?

I'll be in India in December, but I don't know when I'll get to play. I have a busy schedule next year but I would love to play in India. Honestly, I don't know when. But once I am in India, I'll be able to give you a clear picture.