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The Rediff Interview / Shiv Kapur

'The gold medal is
everything for me'

The Busan Asian Games are over, and they left behind some sweet and bitter memories. And the initial taste of sweetness was provided by Shiv Kapur, who bagged a gold medal in the individual golf event. It was only the second time an Indian had won a gold medal in golf at the Asian Games, after Laxman Singh's individual gold at the Delhi Asiad in 1982. Strangely, 1982 was also the year when Shiv Kapur came into this world. And, as he says, he will always cherish his triumph at the Asiad.

Shiv Kumar Even though the game is played at the amateur level at the Games, the level of competition was hot enough for Kapur. And to top that, the dreary weather conditions at the Asian Country Club kept the pressure lid intact on the players' head. However, his stint in the United States, where currently he is in the third year at Purdue (Indianapolis) studying business managment and finance, and also part of the golf team, stood him in good stead. Leading in the first round and then slipping to the fourth position in the second, he stayed in contention by coming up with some brilliant play in the third and fourth rounds to steal the gold.

Although this is just a small honour in the big game of golf, it is a solid platform from which Kapur can now only aim to rise. He knows it will be soon when he would have to answer the big question of when to enter the Pro Tour. However, at present, he wants to concentrate on his studies and enjoy his game.

Fresh from the World Amateur Team Championships, in Malaysia, where he finished 19th (he didn't get a chance to improve his position since the organizers cut the final round to the top 20 teams only as India placed 27th), Kapur spoke to Nagraj Gollapudi about how important the Asian Games gold is to his career, and his plans on making the cut as far as the pro circuit goes.

What went through your mind when you learnt that you were named in the Indian squad on the eve of the Asian Games. Did you have any expectations of winning a medal or medals in the individual and team events?

I was very excited since it has been my dream since I was a ten-year-old kid to play for India at the Asian Games. I definitely expected to win a medal individually, because I had been training the last couple of years for this one event. But I knew it was going to be tough and I would have to play up to my potential. In the team event I felt we had a good chance of winning a medal as well, but again we would require three guys to have a good week.

The conditions on the golf course at Busan were very horrid. How did you adjust?

I had to encounter all kinds of weather over the four days. The first couple of days was windy and then, of course, the last day the rain decided to play a part. My attitude throughout the tournament was good and I kept a positive frame of mind even after a disappointing second day. I kept telling myself that one good day would put me back in contention and I really fought hard in the third round to put myself in position to make a charge on the last day.

You have attributed part of your success to your on-going stint at Purdue and the torrid weather conditions in the US...

In the US I have had a chance to play in different kinds of conditions, like cold, windy, rainy... and that was tough for me to adjust to when I first got the US. But after spending two years there I have learnt to make the weather your friend, since weather is something you cannot control. My coach Devon Brouse has helped me a lot with my attitude and ways to stay positive even in bad weather.

How was the competition in the individual event at Busan Games?

The competition, as always, was tough and a lot of big names were taking part, the favorites being Miyazato from Japan, Prom from Thailand, Hong-Wei from Taiwan, Angelo Que from The Phillipines and, of course, Rohana, the silver medallist from Sri Lanka. I knew these guys were going to be tough to beat, but at the same time I knew if I played my best I would have a good chance of winning. Luckily for me, I had a good week and they didn't play their best.

You shared the lead on the first day of the individual event. The next day you slipped to the fourth spot...

The second day I struggled with my timing; I wasn't hitting my driver well and that golf course really penalizes bad tee shots. I worked on my swing after the round and, fortunately, I found a good swing going into the third round.

How did your prepare yourself for the final assault in the final round of play?

I went into the final day with the attitude of do or die! I told myself that this is the chance I have been dreaming about and give it all I had got. I started the day a little slow and fell behind the leader, but managed to stay calm and pick myself about half way through the round. I kept telling myself that if I played a solid back nine without making any mental errors I would have a good chance to win. I ended up playing probably the best nine holes of my life in the given conditions and, luckily for me, it was at the most crucial time.

How important is this gold medal for you? Who do you think have equally played a part in this success?

The gold medal is everything for me. It is a feeling I find hard to describe. When you dream about something for this long and it actually happens, it's a feeling out of this world. It is a moment in my life which has made me believe that dreams do come true and hard work always pays. The moment of standing on the podium and listening to your national anthem is probably the most memorable in my life.

There are a lot of people I have to thank for my success and I will take the time to thank each one in my own time when I get a chance to sit back and actually get some time to myself. But, most of all, I have to thank my parents for all the sacrifices they have made to get me to where I am. My dad, in particular, has been my coach, my mentor and, above all, my best friend. I know that medal means as much to him as it does to me. My mom would spend hours of her day driving me to practice in my younger days. Also to my sister, who showed me the way and really taught me what hard work is all about.

How different is the level of golf when you play in the US from the one you played in Asia?

The US is where all the best players in the world are and to be the best you have to compete with the best. Even though the standard of golf is pretty high now, which you can judge from the results on the PGA Tour, we are very close to becoming a world force; it's only a matter of time before an Asian comes out and wins a major championship. Personally, I think people make too big a deal out of coaching and should focus more on playing and getting better that way. I feel the biggest area of improvement has come for me by playing at the highest level and working harder on my physical fitness, which people in India unfortunately don't give enough importance to.

What are the important things you have learnt from your experience in the US. Are there any loose ends you need to stitch?

I have learnt a lot in terms of attitude and practice routine. It has exposed my weaknesses and prompted me to work harder to get to the world standard. I still have to work more on my short game, because that is one area you can always improve and also get stronger, so I can add some distance, which I feel is my biggest drawback.

You have said that you wouldn't like to look at the Pro Tour at least for the next couple of years. Have you got a plan in store?

At the moment I am concentrating on college and improving whatever areas of my game I can. And I don't feel I am ready to make such a big move (Pro Tour), but I am going to sit back and think over what I want to do once I get a break this winter. I know that I am probably going to wait at least a year and then I feel I will be in a better position to make a decision.

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