Hero Indian Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
S S P CHAWRASIA goes for a hat-trick of victories on home soil when he defends his Indian Open title in New Dehli, and he can be sure of a hero’s welcome. Chawrasia is a breath of fresh air. In an era when we seem to have become obsessed with 300-plus yard drives, he proves that if you can keep the ball in play and hole a few putts then it is still possible to carve out a lucrative living as a tour professional.
Chawrasia stands just 5ft 5in tall and weighs less than 140lb and his average drive travels only about 265 yards – that is fully 50 yards shorter than the likes of Rory McIlroy. He has four victories on the European Tour, 11 on the Indian Tour and six on the Asian Tour to his name and is a formidable competitor. He is nicknamed “Chip-putt-sia” on account of his magical short game. Put Chawrasia anywhere within 100 yards of the green and you can bet your house on him getting down in two. He claims to struggle on long courses, but the DLF Golf and Country Club upon which he won 12 months ago and which will host the tournament again measures 7,600 yards. He reduced it to 278 blows, 10 under par, and won by an impressive seven shots.
The 39-year-old began life as a caddie. He turned professional in 1997 and earned a paltry £1,000 in his first full season. In 1999 when he finished second to Arjan Atwal in the Indian Open, which back then was not sanctioned by the European Tour. Seven years later he joined the Asian Tour, by which time he had won eight times on the Indian Tour.
Chawrasia’s breakthrough finally came 10 years ago when he won the inaugural Indian Masters, which was by then part of the European Open. After spending years scrambling around trying to eke out a living as a tour professional, that victory saw the diminutive Indian golfer pocket a cheque for almost £250,000, which doubled his career earnings at a stroke. At the time, he was only the third golfer from India after Jeev Milka Singh and Atwal to win on the European Tour.
In February 2011, Chawrasia won his second Asian Tour event, the Avantha Masters in New Delhi. Since then he has won the Panasonic Open India in 2014, the Hero Indian Open and the Resorts World Manila Masters in 2016 and the Hero Indian Open for the second time in 2017. Chawrasia qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics as the second highest ranked Indian player, representing India along with Anirban Lahiri, who won the Indian Open in 2015, the first year when it was co-sanctioned by the European Tour.
Apart from his victories in 2016 and 2017, Chawrasia finished runner-up in his national open on four occasions - in 1999, 2006, 2013 and 2015. He simply loves this tournament, adores playing in front of his home fans and must have a good chance of making it three in a row. “Winning back-to-back made me so happy,” he said. "I was very happy to have everyone supporting me and having my wife there to see me winning the Indian Open two times back to back was extra special. I learnt many things about myself. Of course it is great to win in India but I want to play better in Europe. That’s my target next, I have to win in Europe. The win in 2017 was probably my best win of my career as it was a really tough course. I made fewer mistakes than my rivals."
Lahiri will also be in the field again, along with Arjun Atwal. But the man everybody will be watching is Shubhankar Sharma, the new sensation on Tour. He has already won twice this season and his victory in the Maybank Championship took him to the top of the Race to Dubai. He also led entering the final round of the WGC Mexico Championship, which was eventually won by Phil Mickelson. Much has been made of the potential impact on global golf if the likes of Hideki Matsuyama can win a major, but just imagine the explosion of interest if a golfer from India could make that kind of breakthrough.
India has a population of 1.4 billion people, most of whom are crazy about cricket. Sachin Tendulkar was almost treated like a god when he was flaying the best bowlers in the world to all parts of Test venues around the globe. Just stop for a moment and imagine the reaction if Sharma turns out to be the man who brings home a major to India. He won the Maybank Championship with a startling final round of 62, when he holed just about everything he looked at.
The great news for the tournament is that Hero MotoCorp Ltd have signed a new agreement to remain as the tournament’s main sponsor. Pawan Munjal, chairman, MD and CEO, said: “We have been associated with various disciplines of sport over the past two decades, but our association with golf is especially gratifying because of the overarching growth the sport has seen during the past decade. We are pleased to extend our association with the Hero Indian Open, which we have now sponsored for the past 12 years. Brand Hero is now a major supporter of golf on all the three Tours – Asian Tour, European Tour and the US PGA Tour. With a very strong line-up once again this year, I am sure the fans have a lot to look forward to at the Hero Indian Open 2018.”
Shubhankar Sharma. New sensation of Indian golf
SSP Chawrasia. Good things come in small packages
Scott Hend. On his day, can win anywhere
Shubhankar Sharma. Great temperament
SSP Chawrasia. Just keeps hitting fairways
Scott Hend. Can go low – really low
Anirban Lahiri. Adores playing in front of home crowd
Danthai Boonma. Boosted by great finish in Singapore
Arjun Atwal. Has all the shots
Gaganjeet Bhullar. Looking to rediscover past glories
Matteo Manassero. Course should suit his game
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