Life comes full circle for golfer Chowrasia

By V. Krishnaswamy, IANS

New Delhi : It took just a few nano seconds for the putt to roll into the cup. Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia bent down, picked up the ball and threw it into the crowd. An action replay from his eight wins on domestic tour.

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But this was different, the biggest win of his career – the $2.5 million EMAAR-MGF Indian Masters. With it a whole new world had opened up for him. As he walked to the scorers’ tent to submit his card, there were shouts, “Check your card again”.

Then the cameras, the mikes and everything followed him. That’s when emotions took over.

Leaning on my shoulder, he kept muttering, “What have I done, what have I done.”

I told him he had just won the biggest event ever in India. As if he did not know! “Yes, I know, but I can’t believe it,” he repeated. “I never even dreamt of this.”

Suddenly, he was gazing far away, as if his whole life was unfolding in front of him. It probably was. Just as snatches of his life’s incidents were running through my mind. They were snatches he had narrated many times to me, on trips abroad and at home.

The first trip away from home to Patna; the first night in a hotel; the hops across the wall bordering the Royal Calcutta Golf Club to practise putting on the greens in secret and at night; his first tryst with fame when he finished second to Arjun Atwal in 1999 Indian Open; his first flight abroad; the unsigned card and tears in Taiwan in 2006; the sleepless night before the play-off he lost to Jyoti Randhawa a few weeks later; and now this… receiving an India Gate shaped trophy, an Omega Watch from Abhishek Bachchan and receiving a cheque worth Rs.16 million. Above all the chance to play anywhere in Asia and Europe, till 2010!

Life has changed in one week, but it has taken 10 years in coming. Over the years I have walked with him on many courses in many countries; sat with him in caddy shacks; local restaurants; a resort hotel in Sentosa Island and had a sushi and sticky rice in a Japanese restaurant in Bangkok.

Chowrasia cannot still decide what made him more nervous – the first time he left home to board a train to Patna for a golf tournament or Sunday when his name was called as the winner of the EMAAR-MGF Indian Masters at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC).

“It was the first time (1998) I was leaving home and I was nervous. I had never travelled alone and this time it was my greatest win, a win that will take a long time to sink in,” said Chowrasia.

There was a time, when his knees shook at the thought of travelling alone or taking a flight. He would get even more nervous filling travel documents. But now he has no such fears. “I have been fortunate to have friends like Rahil (Gangjee), Gaurav (Ghei) and Shiv (Kapur) who travel on the Asian Tour regularly,” he says.

“They also give me good advice. Last year when I started thinking of saving my card (finishing in top-60), Shiv told me to stop thinking small. He said I was a player who should be thinking of winning and not just making cuts. Today (Sunday) I did that (win),” he told me last year in Singapore after finishing inside top-25 and ensuring his card for 2008. “It is all about the mind. Golf is a mind game.”

There was a time he was happy to be second to Arjun Atwal, like back in 1999 Indian Open. “Arjun was a big star in Kolkata and I was just 19 and only in my second year. He had won lots as a pro and as a top amateur and I had never played amateur golf and straight away become a pro. And I was happy to make that much of money (about $ 22,000),” he once recalled in the sylvan surroundings at Amby Valley.

Then in 2006, he faced the first big test on how to handle misfortune. He was five shots ahead of the field at the Mercuries Masters in Taiwan and was halfway through his maiden title. But, inside the scorer’s tent, excitement got the better of him and he forgot to sign his card. And the penalty was disqualification.

He was inconsolable. It took mature friends like Ghei and Gangjee to see him through that crisis. He flew back home to recover from that shock. “That was an awful experience. I wanted to cry and for days I could only think of that. It was a big lesson,” he said over the telephone from Kolkata on return then.

A few weeks later he was again in contention at the Hero Honda Indian Open in 2006 but went into a play-off after missing a 15-foot birdie putt for an outright win on the 72nd hole. “I got nervous and missed the line,” he said. As darkness engulfed the Delhi Golf Club, Chowrasia retired to his room thinking about that miss. The next morning he lost in the second play-off hole to Randhawa.

“I was wondering, if I would only come close and then lose,” he said. “But by now in by heart of hearts I knew I could win. If I kept coming closer, I would ultimately do it,” he added.

Did he know it was his time when he came to the course on Sunday? “No,” Chowrasia says with simplicity. “At fifth (place after third round) I was in contention. But I was also nervous. I came to the course two and a half hours early and practised on the range and the putting green.”

The early birdie on first, the chip-in birdie on third and yet another on fourth took care of the butterflies and the body language changed. He missed a couple of other birdies, but turned in four-under and was right on course to victory.

“There were still nine holes to go, and I told myself that I should make sure of the pars. I did just that and got one more birdie,” he added. “On the 18th tee I was distracted as some spectators walked across. I backed off twice and then went ahead. I played safe and reached the green in three. Again I was nervous, because in third round I had three-putted from 10 feet. This time I got a two-putt par and I was home.”

Yet, his real home was away in Kolkata and he was thinking about it.

However a professional golfer’s life is never so simple. There was a flight to catch – to Indonesia for the next event. But, he was now drained, mentally and physically.

He looked at his new Omega watch and then turned to me and said, “I can’t play next week. I want to go home (to Kolkata). Can you call Asian Tour and cancel my entry?”

I did. Next he called the travel agent to book a ticket to Kolkata. And then I dropped him to go to his hotel room in Nizamuddin, a five-minute drive from the DGC.

Monday morning he flew home. Every time he had left home, he had a dream. This time he had achieved it and was returning home a winner and richer by Rs.16 million in money. But the experience was worth more than that.