Beyond my wildest dreams, says victor Chowrasia

By V. Krishnaswamy, IANS

New Delhi : The wheel turned a full circle for Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia, a modest greenskeeper’s son, who turned professional 10 years ago. On Sunday, he became only the third Indian to win on the European Tour, by claiming the $2.5 million EMAAR-MGF Indian Masters at the Delhi Golf Club.

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“It has been beyond my wildest dreams. I did not even think about winning, I just wanted to do well. Frankly I do not know what I will do with this money ($416,660 equivalent to Rs.1.65 crores), but all I know is I will play on both European and Asian Tours,” said Chowrasia.

“Right now I am feeling drained with this excitement and have withdrawn from Indonesian Open next week and I want to go home and share this with my family,” added Chowrasia.

Lying fifth after the third round, which he ended by three-putting from inside 10 feet for a bogey, Chowrasia still managed to maintain his usual smile. On Sunday, leading by two and playing flawless golf, he hesitated for a brief moment, not once but twice, as spectators walked across his line of sight.

He calmed himself, thundered down the tee shot with a Rescue Club and then coolly played for a par and walked away with the biggest prize ever by an Indian on home soil. The prize was $416,660 but the worth was far greater as it now makes him eligible for European and Asian Tours till 2010 end.

Though he turned professional as far back as 1998, and finished second behind to fellow Kolkatan Arjun Atwal in the 1999 Indian Open at his home course, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, it was only in 2006, that cautious Chowrasia decided to venture out onto the Asian Tour.

On how he decided to get on to the Asian Tour, Chowrasia reveals, “At the end of the 2005, I decided I would put away part of my earnings from Indian Tour to play on Indian Tour. I decided I would invest Rs.6 lakhs (600,000) for travelling and expenses on a few events. If it worked I would stay or else I would take a decision again.”

He never really needed to worry. His first season on Asian Tour was a big success. He impressed all with a good opening event in Pakistan and then top-20 finishes in Philippines and Crowne Plaza in China. Then came a top-10 at Bangkok Airways Open.

Then he made headlines at Mercuries Masters in Taiwan, but for wrong reasons. He led the field by five shots at halfway mark, but was disqualified for forgetting to sign his scorecard.

“That was an awful experience. I wanted to cry, but soon got over it. It was a big lesson,” says Chowrasia of that sad experience. “But the good thing was Gaurav won the event and he was very helpful in my getting over the experience.’

At the Hero Honda Indian Open in 2006, he lost a play-off to Jyoti Randhawa after missing a 15-feet birdie putt for the title on 72nd hole. He ended the year with a tenth place in Volvo Masters. “I was fourth, but bogeyed last two holes to come 10th. Still it was a great year,” says Chowrasia.

Chowrasia says the Asian Tour has been a great education. “Some years back I was not confident of travelling alone. I was not confident of talking to strangers and all I felt good about was getting to the golf course, where I knew I could compete with anybody,” says the smiling Chowrasia, who is now in his third year on the Asian Tour.

“Some Indians want Indian food all the time. I am willing to experiment and am enjoying it,” says Chowrasia. “Now I am comfortable travelling anywhere, be it Vietnam, be it Taiwan or China or anywhere. By and large, fellow players are friendly and people appreciate you for your golf and that’s been the big education for me. And yes, my golf has improved. In my first year I was 38th, and was 32nd in 2007,” says Chowrasia.

Eight years ago, in only his second year as a professional Chowrasia finished second to Arjun Atwal at the 1999 Indian Open on his home course, Royal Calcutta Golf Club. “I was barely 20 at that time,” recalled Chowrasia. “Still it was a great experience.”

Chowrasia is a self-taught golfer. “I have had no formal training and I never played as an amateur and became a pro straight away. However, a few years ago, I did spend a couple of weeks with an Australian coach who had come to India,” says Chowrasia. “I basically rely on feel.”

On the Asian Tour experience, he said, “Playing in different countries with very strong fields has helped me. I have been in contention a few times and I know I can compete with the best. On the golf course, everyone has the same challenge.”

On how he communicates with people, he said, “I used to be hesitant initially. I don’t speak very good English, but I realised that I only need to communicate. The Koreans, Thais and Japanese also speak broken English and they get along well. I think it was all a mental block; now I go where I feel, and do what I want to.”

“And of course, the Indians players on the Tour have been very helpful, too. Rahil (Gangjee), Gaurav (Ghei) and Shiv (Kapur) are players I travel a lot with. I don’t hesitate to ask them.”

“I am secure now. Royal Calcutta Golf Club as backed my travels, I have done well on Indian and Asian Tour and my game has improved. I am also working on physical fitness,” concludes Chowrasia, who after the Volvo Masters will make appearances on Indian Tour, too. “That after all was my starting point.”