VIRAJ MADAPPA - When Madappa’s leap of faith resulted in a shot to cherish for years

Have you ever hit a shot that not only elevated your confidence for that one particular round, but was so good that you start using it as a visualizing template later in your career? It certainly happened with Viraj Madappa.

It was during the final round of the 2018 Take Solutions Masters at the KGA Golf Course in Bengaluru. Madappa, an ‘adopted’ local hero having moved to the city from Kolkata to be with his coach Tarun Sardesai, was in contention going into the final round of the Asian Tour event.

Playing in the penultimate group with Zimbabwean Scott Vincent, a steady front nine saw the then 20-year-old move closer to the top of the leaderboard. However, his playing partner held all the aces when he eagled the par-4 10th hole and enjoyed a two-shot cushion at that stage.

Madappa faced two formidable foes – the uber-talented Vincent, and the fact that he was trying to get his first win as a professional in his rookie season on the Asian Tour.

If you do a poll among the Asian Tour players as to who they think is the most talented player on the Tour never to have won a title, chances are that a majority would name the Zimbabwean. And on that day in Bengaluru, it looked like the inevitable was finally going to happen.

However, those rooting for Vincent and his experience, probably did not factor in the steel and grit of Madappa.

The seminal moment for Madappa came on the par-3 15th hole. On paper, with a stroke index of 18, it is one of the easiest holes on the golf course. However, in the heat of a battle with just four holes remaining, every hole becomes a severe test of nerves.

“The pin was cut middle right on the 15th and at that point, I was one shot behind Scott. It was my honour,” remembers Madappa.

“The tee box that day was placed at a very weird angle, I’d say, because there was an overhanging branch right in front of us. The wind was coming from the right and my stock shot is a draw (slight right-to-left flight). Given the wind and the pin, I was actually trying to cut (left-to-right shot) this one against the wind.

“It required a leap of faith for me to hit that shot. I needed to hit a little cut and it turned out to be picture perfect. It started centre green, cutting against the wind, pitched pin high, probably couple of feet left of the hole and rolled to about five feet.

“Scott hit a very impressive shot – a high draw over the branch – to about eight feet. We both made our birdies, but that one shot shifted a lot of things in my favour, especially mentally. I could clearly feel the momentum shifting my way and I played great golf down the stretch.

“I still struggle hitting a fade, but whenever I have to hit one, I tried to visualize that one shot and try to get the same feeling.”

The Take Solutions Masters win has been the highlight of Madappa’s career so far, and he also recollected another shot, hit on the Saturday, which was key to his run up the leaderboard. It was a driver off the deck from the fairway.

“There was quite a big crowd following us during the third round because we were an all-Indian group (local hero Khalin Joshi, Honey Baisoya and Madappa) playing a couple of flights ahead of the leadergroup,” Madappa reminisces.

“I had fallen quite a few shots behind Khalin and Miguel (Carballo) when we reached the par-5 14th hole (600-yard, dogleg right). My strategy there is to usually hit a driver on to the 11th fairway and give myself a chance to reach the green in two while avoiding the water hazards.

“I hit a driver to the 11th fairway and I had about 300 yards to a back-left flag. I faced a downhill lie and there were a few trees, not very tall, some 70 yards ahead of me. We had preferred lies that week, but still, it wasn’t a very easy shot.

“I decided to hit the driver. May be, it was a rash decision playing my first season on the Asian Tour, but I had hit 3-4 driver shots off the deck that week and it felt like the right decision. I managed to pull it off and reached the greenside bunker from where I made my up-and-down for a birdie. That sparked something and I birdied the 15th, 16th and 18th as well to close the gap against the leaders.

“There were so many members and juniors who saw the shot that day, I still get asked to hit the driver from the 11th fairway when I am playing at the KGA.”

By Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf)

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