by Aman Misra, in Pune
Every year, the Indian Open field includes four amateurs who have finished at the top of the gentleman’s rankings on the Indian Golf Union’s (IGU) tour. In the past, this list has included some of the who’s who of Indian golf including Jyoti Randhawa who won both the amateur (in 1992) and professional divisions (thrice 2000, 2006, and 2007) among others who have gone on to have fine careers as professionals. Infact, the first Indian winner of the Open was an amateur – PG ‘Billo’ Sethi in 1965.
This year’s class includes Kshitij Naveed Kaul, Kartik Sharma, Yashas Chandra and Dhruv Sheoran who were the top-ranked golfers for the year 2017. Think of them as the golfing equivalent of the U19 or U23 cricket teams, unequivocally the future of Indian golf. Your correspondent caught up with them on Wednesday, a day before the tournament began.
Kshitij Naveed Kaul – Kshitij picked up golf when he was three and a half. Growing up as the son of a Navy man, he would follow dad to the golf course at 3 am before heading off to school. Now all of 17, this is his first appearance at the Indian Open. He is the youngest in this week’s field. As a junior, Kaul led the proceedings in the IGU amateur standings despite being a year shy of officially being called an amateur.
In the past, he has played a couple of professional events including last year’s Take Solutions in Bangalore on the Asian Tour where he missed cut.
According to Paramjit Singh, an IGU rules official, Kaul is beyond his years. “Bad shots don’t rattle the young lad. During a tournament in Hyderabad, I saw him start on the 10th, and on the 15th he hit two balls out of bounds. That didn’t deter him as he came back strongly on the front-nine to move up the leaderboard” adds Singh.
Kaul works with Commander Gangadhar Sake who has in the past worked with Arshdeep Tiwana and Joseph Chakola to name a few. He plans to play a few more professional events as an amateur before making the big jump to the professional leagues.
On playing in his National Open, Kaul says “This is a massive learning curve. To get to play with the European and Asian stars is something I have looked forward to.”
Kartik Sharma – The southpaw from Delhi who works with Anitya Chand at the DLF Golf and Country Club, was originally interested in tennis till he was 10 years old. After his father who is in the Army was posted to Mathura, he took to golf as there was a course right outside his residence.
According to Paramjit Singh, Sharma is one of the best left-handed golfers he has seen on tour. “His game, attitude, and decision-making stands out. He’s one of the most knowledgeable juniors when it comes to the rules of golf. Sharma always knows when to get maximum relief when he’s in a sticky situation.” added the rules official.
On playing in his National Open, the 18-year-old says “It’s not easy to play the Indian Open as an amateur. Somewhere at the back of my mind, it was a goal to make it in 2018 so this is special.”
Dhruv Sheoran – A year removed from his PGTI qualifying school triumph, Sheoran at 23 is a late bloomer according to the former Director General of the IGU Arun Singh.
He followed that up with a win at last year’s Sri Lankan Amateur.
Dhruv has resisted turning professional after getting through q-school this year because he wants to wait for the Jakarta Asian Games slated in August later in the year.
Playing his first Indian Open, Sheoran says “It’s going to be a long week, have to be patient. I have made some tweaks in my swing with my coach (Anitya Chand) at the DLF, so hope it comes together.”
Yashas Chandra – Chandra is an anomaly says, Arun Singh. Hailing from Mysuru which is also home to two well-known juniors Aalap Il and Pranavi Urs, the Karnataka local boy took the game up at 10 and hasn’t looked back ever since.
According to Paramjit Singh, “In Mysuru, the fairways double up as practice facilities. So for Yashas to come through from a tier-2 city is phenomenal considering that the coaching there is next to zero.”
This is Yashas’s third crack at the Indian Open after two previous missed cuts at the 2016 and 2017 editions. Currently pursuing a BTech degree in Civil Engineering, the 23-year-old finished T15 at the PGTI q-school to earn his card this year. He plans to turn professional post the Asian Games. Yashas is currently coached by Laurence Brotheridge in Pune.
Adding to his past record at the Open, Chandra says “The main this is the experience gained. Playing well this week can open a lot of doors for any one of us.”