How does one convey the significance of an event for which there is no reference point? That’s what makes it difficult to place the recent achievements of two young Indian golfers—Aditi Ashok and Avani Prashanth—within the order of peers amongst whom they rank. Before gushing any further, it would be appropriate to present the facts about Aditi Ashok: In March 2023, she is leading the Ladies European Tour’s (LET) current season’s rankings; she has won nearly half a million dollars in the three events she’s played in just four weeks; and Ashok didn’t just win, she routed the field by nine shots in Kenya. It’s one of the biggest recorded margins of victory on the LET.
On to Prashanth: The 16-year-old amateur won the individual trophy at the Queen Sirikit Cup, and powered Team India to a second-place finish at the prestigious event. The Queen Sirikit Cup, officially known as the Asia-Pacific Amateur Ladies Golf Team Championship, is an annual amateur team golf championship for women organised by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation. Simply put, there’s no bigger stage or tougher field for a woman amateur in this part of the world. In case you’re wondering, Prashanth won by ten strokes.
To say that Ashok and Prashanth have hit it out of the park would be an understatement. In a game as competitive as golf—where most events are decided by the margin of a stroke—to register such emphatic wins, against world class fields isn’t just improbable, it’s unfathomable. If someone had laid odds on either to win, and by such margins, I reckon that wager would have brought in more moolah that the prize purse of the event. Okay that’s hyperbole, but you get the picture.
It’s even harder to separate the two. Ashok’s pedigree is well established, what with all those heroics at the Tokyo Olympics which had the country in a tizzy in a way no golfer, man or woman has ever evoked. She’s won twice in Europe before and has come close many times. Besides the win in Kenya, she’s notched up a runner-up and a third-place finish in the three events she’s played this year.
But Avani Prashanth? Talk about a performance for the ages! Now Prashanth isn’t exactly an unknown. She has won a number of national championships, as well as a pro event on the domestic circuit earlier this year. The teenager has shown that she could hold her own, not just against pros, but pros of international calibre, when she finished 12th at the 2022 Women’s Indian Open. Prashanth likes competing against the pros, and that’s given her game an edge usually not honed at this level. This girl can play.
For now, Ashok appears to be taking some time off: she wasn’t in the field at the last couple of events in South Africa. But the leader of the domestic tour, 19-year-old Pranavi Urs recorded a Top-25 at the Joburg Ladies Open. Urs is hoping to follow in Ashok’s footsteps and qualify for the LET in the coming season, for which she’ll be playing the Epson Tour. Finally, back home, 17-year-old Sneha Singh of Hyderabad won her first pro event at the Hero WPGT at Royal Calcutta Golf Club in Kolkata. Interestingly Singh had won a couple of pro titles as an amateur but had been unable to repeat the feat after she turned pro. No dearth of excitement here.
Lest you think that the writer is a fanboy who can’t stop gushing, he’d like to reaffirm, that, yes, that would be an accurate assessment. Women’s golf has come a long way in India but it’s still a steep climb for a young woman who wants to take up the game as a vocation. It’s hard not to root for them. Ashok has made no secret of her ambition to be the best player in the world. “This year, I am leading the official tour ranking. It’s a good start for me…Though my goal is always to play well at bigger events, I want to lead the world’s women’s ranking someday. I feel it’s doable…but there’s still a long way to go,”Ashok remarked after her fantastic rally to asecond-place finish in the Aramco Saudi International last month.
Ashok’s male counterparts, on the other hand, didn’t make too many waves at the marquee Hero Indian Open that was played at the DLF G & CC in Gurugram last month. The hero, or the villain (depending on whether you’re a spectator, or a player), in this case, was the unique layout. From behind the ropes at this course, there’s a great deal of schadenfreude to be derived from watching seasoned pros being subjected to the kind of brutality the game routinely inflicts on hapless amateurs.
“The DLF Golf & Country Club presents the same degree of difficulty to the pros as less difficult courses present to the rest of us. And by that yardstick, this just gives the pros a taste of the weekend hacker life. What’s not to like about that…” someone remarked audibly, eliciting ayes of agreement from the sidelines. Still, it was hard to watch grown men get their teeth knocked out (metaphorically) every now and then (especially when they thought they had a measure of the layout). Most took it on the chin. Others muttered under their breath, doffed their hats meekly, and moved on while some were just too stunned to react.
Just ask local lad Angad Cheema, who looked all set for a Top-10 finish—the best by an Indian—until being undone by the 18th hole on the final day. Cheema’s quadruple bogey on the last hole was the stuff golf nightmares are made of. One can only hope that the youngster finds a way to file that memory in some deep recess of his memory and throw away the key. English golfer Eddie Pepperell’s tweet from 2018—‘…that course was designed by Satan’—was frequently re-articulated in post-round conversations between players.
The statistics illustrated the carnage: the four-over cut is the highest mark on Tour for 2023; only seven players managed to record bogey-free rounds over four days. There were a total of 11 holes that played over par for the event. The monster amongst these—the Par-4 14th hole—played well over par. Even the winner, Marcel Siem of Germany only managed to par this hole once—crucially on the final day. That solitary stroke gave Siem outright victory and prevented a playoff.
They say that golf is a game of fractions. And it usually is, except on those rare occasions when a player pulls a rabbit out of a hat and produces a career defining performance that laps the field. It is possible. Ashok and Prashanth just gave a masterclass on how it’s done. The Ladies European Tour will come calling for the Hero Ladies Women’s Open in October 2023 as the season winds to a close. Both players will be in the mix, and It’ll be interesting to see how the year shapes up for both of them. The event will be the highlight of the year for a strong Indian contingent that includes hitherto lesser-known young players raring to make a mark. If you’re a woman golfer in India, then these days are just packed!
Meraj Shah is a Delhi-based writer, golfer and television producer.