SSP CHAWRASIA - A shot that realised Chawrasia’s life-long dream at the Hero Indian Open

Growing up in a hut next to the ninth green of Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC), the biggest festival for Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia was when the Indian Open came to Kolkata every alternate year.

“We would wait anxiously and count down the days. For all of us in the nearby padas (localities), the Indian Open was bigger than any Diwali or Holi. All discussions at the range and at the tea stalls would be about the chances of the Indian pros and trying to find out more about the foreign pros coming for the tournament,” Chawrasia once told me.

“So, when I was learning golf, Indian Open was the biggest tournament for me. When I’d play with the lads or take them on at the putting green, the putts were always being made to win the Indian Open. We really did not have much idea about the Masters or other tournaments.”

No wonder then that the national open holds a very special place in the heart of Chawrasia, whose father was a greenkeeper at RCGC. It was the one title he always dreamed of winning.

Within a couple of years of turning pro, Chawrasia first came close to realising his dream in 1999. As a virtual unknown in the game, he finished tied second to Arjun Atwal at their home club.

But the agonising wait was extended for 17 excruciating years before Chawrasia finally got his hands around the cherished trophy.

After missing the cut by seven shots in a tough debut the year before, he was happy (over the moon, actually!) to just be in the mix in 1999. If not for three dropped shots in three holes right after the turn, he could have given Atwal plenty to think about over the closing stretch.

His next best chance came seven years later when the Hero Indian Open was held at the Delhi Golf Club. A birdie on the 17th hole gave him a one-shot lead over Jyoti Randhawa and Vijay Kumar, but while he made a par on the 18th, the other two stalwarts of Indian golf picked up a shot on the 72nd hole to make it a three-way play-off. Kumar bowed off after the first extra hole, and the remaining two had to return to the 18th on Monday to finish off the battle. Chawrasia failed to make an up-and-down from the green edge to lose to Randhawa’s birdie.

Another seven-year wait saw him finish tied second along with Anirban Lahiri at the 2013 Hero Indian Open as Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rehman won by one shot.

In 2015, Chawrasia was knocking on the door once again, and this time, it was a heart-breaking loss. He shot a five-over par 76 (the 14th hole was made a par-4 that year), as Lahiri edged him in a play-off with a birdie on the first extra hole after a gritty two-under par 69 final round.

The 2015 loss hurt. By then, Chawrasia had already won twice on the European Tour, but it seemed the only thing everyone wanted to know was when would he finally win the Indian Open.

“It was getting on to my nerves by then. The Indian Open question would invariably creep into every conversation I was having those days. However, every time I had to speak about it and defend myself, it would only strengthen my resolve to win the tournament,” he added.

That finally happened in 2016. An emotional Chawrasia found himself in another tense battle with Lahiri before getting the better of the par-5 18th, a hole that had given him much grief over the years, with a birdie. No wonder then that the shot which set up his final birdie, remains the most unforgettable shot of his career till date.

While Chawrasia may have forgotten to mention, but the par-3 12th hole was pivotal in the whole scheme of things. He had pulled his tee shot into the middle of a bush, then gone inside it and hacked it to the grassy swale. With the pin tucked to the left and just a couple of paces from the edge, he now faced an impossible chip shot and a bogey looked imminent.

That would have been catastrophic. Having started the day four ahead of Lahiri and five ahead of Wang, the chasing duo had reduced the margin to one shot when Chawrasia made a bogey on the 10th. He just could not afford another mistake on the 12th.

Miraculously, Chawrasia chipped in for a par!

“Yes. That was a very important par save,” he said. “A bogey there would have put a lot of pressure on me.”

He celebrated it with a birdie on the 13th hole, which gave him the one-shot breathing space going into the 18th hole.

Invariably, the 18th on Sunday proved to be a challenge. His second shot was about 70 yards short of the green and nestled in the left rough, with overhanging branches of a tree obstructing a clear view to the flag.

When Lahiri hit his third shot to about 12 feet below the flag for a possible birdie, the pressure was well and truly on Chawrasia.

“The last thing I wanted was another play-off. I took a 54-degree wedge and it really wasn’t the easiest of shots from there. I had to hit a little low. But it turned out to be perfect and rolled to three feet and I made that putt,” said Chawrasia.

The shot drew hearty applause, not from just the gallery but also from Lahiri, who was denied a chance to win back-to-back titles. It was probably more an acknowledgement of Chawrasia’s tenacity and perseverance than the audaciousness of the shot. After all, game recognises game.

“To win the Indian Open, it was a dream in the making all my life. To finally win it almost 19 years after turning pro and after so many near-misses, words can’t really describe what it meant to me. I will never forget the moment, and I will never forget that shot and all that happened after that,” said Chawrasia, who was bestowed the Arjuna Award in 2018.

By Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf)

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