Aditi Ashok: I'm happy I could play a part in helping golf grow in India

Speaking exclusively to Sportstar from Scotland, the 23-year-old reflects on the Tokyo Games and shares the road ahead for her.

Aditi Ashok watches her shot from the eighth tee during the final round of the women's individual stroke play during the Tokyo Games. - AP

Fresh from making all of India tune into golf on a Saturday morning (August 7) thanks to her inspiring performance at the Tokyo Olympics, Indian golfer Aditi Ashok is already looking ahead, having flown all the way to Scotland to compete in the Scottish Open that starts on Thursday (August 12).

She may have moved from one part of the globe to another in a matter of days, but all of India still can’t stop talking about her commendable fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Games, where she missed a podium finish by a whisker, ending with a score of three under 68 - 15-under overall - and missing a historic podium finish by one shot.

Speaking exclusively to Sportstar from Scotland, the 23-year-old reflects on the Tokyo Games and shares the road ahead for her.

Q. You missed out on a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics, but your game had the country gripped. Have you had the chance to reflect upon the two weeks that have gone by and what have been your takeaways?

A. Game-wise, there are a lot of positives to take away because even though I wasn’t hitting that far since I was a short hitter and also because I had Covid (in May), I got a little weaker. Even though I had that to deal with, I was still able to compete with the world No. 1 and former medallists, who were the best golfers in the world. That was a huge positive for me to take into the season, the next few events, and the next few years. 

I think the fact that so many people in India woke up to watch golf and watch me play...it was a huge honour for me to represent India and to be able to do that with my golf and I am really thankful to everybody who supported and watched and made an effort to understand the sport.

The whole idea to have golf at the Olympics is so that the sport grows globally and I am happy I could play a small part in growing it in India. 

You caught everyone off guard with your level of play and consistency. Did you feel the pressure of expectation upon you to deliver?

Not really. I was just taking it day by day and I knew I was feeling well. In a way, when you are playing well, the pressure isn't as much because you know you are performing well. It is not to say it is easier, but you know you belong there because you are playing well every day. 

I was just trying to do better than the previous day. I think I played to the best of my ability on all four days and gave my 100 percent. The fact that there was not as much pressure and that it was my second Olympics helped a lot.

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You were tied for third place when the storm arrived on the final day to delay proceedings. How big a turning point do you feel that break proved to be? Did it hurt your momentum? 

I would not want to blame the weather because it is something everyone has to deal with. The storm came and we all had to stop, it was fine, but the shots that I had left - 30-40 yard pit shots not from the fairway but from the rug - are not the easiest after a 40-minute delay because you don't know after the rain if the grass is wet and you have not had the shot feel playing in 15 holes. So it is a weird position to be thrown into after a 40-minute delay. 

But I don't think I did badly, I think I chipped it well, I just missed the putt narrowly, but considering the second shot that I had, maybe it was not the best case coming in after a delay to hit such a feel-oriented shot.

Aditi Ashok bumps fists with USA's Nelly Korda during the penultimate round. Nelly Korda won the gold medal. - REUTERS

 

Do you think Lydia Ko and Mone Inami raised their game in the final stretch, making it difficult for you to hold on to the medal position? 

Not really, I think they both played really amazingly. Everyone was playing well. They both played really well on the final day, made a lot of birdies on the final day as opposed to my rounds, where I was struggling to make that many birdies because I was missing too many fairways. They played great and I don't think the weather had anything to do with this. We knew we had to make birdies to get to a podium finish and they did and that's how they made it.

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How difficult was it to maintain a high level of consistency in your game across the days? Did you have doubts while hanging in there with some of the best golfers in the world?  

No, I always feel like I am playing well. 

At this point, you would not be here if you were not a good golfer and I think everyone is good. It is just that how good is your bag. My bag was bad enough to throw me from top three to 41st (in Rio, 2016) whereas this time my bag was still good enough to manage a three-under on the final day. 

So in that sense, I think I did well. I was not really that fazed by it because it was my second Olympics and I did have that experience, going into Tokyo.

 

Four Indian golfers qualified for Tokyo Olympics. What do you feel the sport needs from an administrative point of view to ensure India builds on your strong performance?

I think it is great to see an improvement. Last time, in Rio, we had three golfers, now we had four in Tokyo. Last time, I don't think we had any good finishes. 

This time, I finished fourth. It shows that golf as a sport can be taken seriously and has a medal chance. So for sure, getting the support, via grassroots level programs bringing up more juniors and all the way up to the elite level golfers, getting the encouragement and support, would help.

It definitely helps that golf is an Olympic sport and I did so well, maybe it will make the game popular, maybe facilities will improve, maybe school children will hear about it and it will grow the game on the whole. 

When we talk about Olympic sport, golf usually doesn't get the same limelight as other sports, but you managed to change the perception in Tokyo across India. How do you think your Olympic run can help golf in India, in general?

As I said, I think the biggest thing for golf, even though India has such a big population, the golf community is really small so making that community bigger - introducing more people to the game - is always the way forward. It is the way to grow the game. 

I think people who have not heard about golf started to search on Google about it, started reading about it, woke up early to watch me play, tried to understand the difference between birdies and bogeys and I think that it is a step in the right direction, that people are aware of the sport at least. 

As the awareness builds, more kids will take up the sport. Right now in India, you get to try all sports in India, like basketball, football, cricket, hockey, badminton, you don't get to try golf. Just bringing that awareness to the sport which makes kids want to try it at least is a huge boost for the sport.

Finally, where does Aditi Ashok head from here — immediately and long-term?

Currently, I am competing in the Scottish Open and I have a few more events in Europe and the USA left for the year. So, obviously, I am trying to use this performance to build on it, maybe have a few more top finishes because a couple of weeks before the Olympics, I finished tied third in a team event. 

So I knew my game was good and then that led to fourth place in Olympics. So hopefully, that will lead to a few more good finishes this year and improve my rankings and improve my status on both LPGA and the Ladies European Tour (LET). 

But for the future, the goal, of course, is to get a win on the LPGA because I have won thrice on the LET, but I have not won on the LPGA yet. So that is the main goal and of course, keep getting better as a golfer, I think the big difference between Rio and Japan was [that] in the former I was not as experienced and seasoned as a golfer, whereas in the latter I was and I could see the difference in performance. 

The goal is to get better every single year, whether in terms of physical fitness or in terms of trying and hitting longer and getting sharper with all the aspects of the sport.

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