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The Rediff Interview/Jyoti Randhawa

'I did not plan to be the best in the country or Asia'

November 07, 2003

India's golfing ace Jyoti Randhawa says the lack of money and world class facilities is keeping the world's best golfers, including Tiger Woods, away from the Indian tour.

"Tiger Woods charges two million dollars to participate in any tournament outside the United States. You give him that kind of money and he will come to India," Randhawa told Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in an exclusive interview at the DLF Golf Course in Gurgaon.

The winner of the Masters in 1998 and 1999, and 2002 Asian PGA tour's Order of Merit said paucity of good international coaches is hindering the growth of golf in the country. "My game improved because I went to an Australian coach," he said.

Excerpts from the interview:

Despite the fact that golf is become popular in India only a handful of Indians have been able to make their mark on the international circuit. Why?

Jyoti RandhawaGolf is one of the most catching games after cricket in India. There is a lot of scope for improvement. Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, myself and others have been able to do well on the international circuit. One of the reasons why we have not been able to do as well as we should have is because of the fact that the game is still very young in India compared to Europe and America, where the game is almost 200 years old. In India golf is barely 15 years old. So there is tremendous difference between 15 years and 200 years and we have to do lot of catching up. All that I can say is that the game is catching the fancy of young golfers. Lot of money is being put into the game and it is coming up nicely.  Twenty years later we will be hundred times better than what we are today.

When did golf become a passion with Indians?

Ali Sher's winning the Indian Open in 1990 became the turning point in Indian golf. Suddenly people like Brandon D'Souza, Rishi Narain and my brother Bunty became the first professional golfers of India. That kick-started Indian golf. But Ali Sher winning the Indian Open, which was rated one of the best events in Asia, opened doors for Indian golfers and the world started taking us seriously.

Then Feroz Ali won the Indian Open followed by Arjun Atwal, Vijay Kumar and myself. That is when myself, Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal stepped out to try our luck in the international golf circuit and we have done reasonably well, in the sense that we have made a living out of golf.

Why is it that Indian golf tournaments are unable to attract the world's best?

If the top guys are not coming to India it is because of the lack of infrastructure, facilities and the technical know-how or knowledge of the game imparted to us. Only two years back we have started getting professionals like Nonita Hazari, Rishi Narain and Brandon D'Souza to teach golf to youngsters. In last five years DLF, ITC, Golden Greens and J P Green have come up, which are of international standard. So unless we have good infrastructure and facilities we will not be able to see the top golfers of the world.

Are you suggesting that lack of good coaches is acting as a handicap for Indian golfers?

Definitely. You can reach a certain stage with your talent but after that it is only the technical skill that takes you further. We need to have good international coaches because the kind of information, technical know-how they would be able to give young golfers cannot be provided by Indian coaches. My game improved because I went to an Australian coach. He has been to India and also helped some other golfers as well. Golf is an expensive game and we need to do our best and keep winning. The dollar conversion in Indian currency is almost fifty times.

What is preventing Indian talent from flourishing?

I have already said lack of good international coaches is the first and the foremost thing. The other thing lacking is good monetary support from the government of India and as well as corporate houses.

Could you name a few youngsters who could do well in years to come?

Shiv Kapur, who won the Asian Games gold medal, is perhaps the brightest of the whole lot. Gurbaaz Mann, caddy-turned-golfer Ashok Kumar and Vinod Kumar are some of the good players who should do well. I hear some of the boys in Chandigarh, Kolkatta and Mumbai are also coming up. I have not been able to see them so I would not like to name them.

Tiger WoodsWhy does Tiger Woods not take part in Indian golf tournaments?

One of the basic reasons behind this is that he charges two million dollars to participate in a tournament. I do not think either the Government of India or any corporate house is willing to shell out that kind of money to ensure his participation. You pay his price and he will definitely come.

What makes Tiger Woods so unique?

It is a combination of lot of factors; the right atmosphere being the foremost. Since his father was in the army he learnt hard work and discipline from his childhood days. He struggled a lot in life. His self-management is excellent. People talk about his swing and strength, but I would say he has excellent control over himself. And this is why he is simply the best, at least so far. 

Golf, it is said, is a sport for retired persons. Is it true?

Well, this could have been the impression 20 years back, but not any longer. No longer do you find people knocking the ball and trying to find it. More and more youngsters are now flocking the various golf clubs in the country and practicing hard to make a name. One thing Tiger Woods has done is he has made golf a sport for athletes. The game requires top physical fitness to perform.

When do you begin your day and end it?

Like any golfer, my day begins at 5.30 in the morning. I do some exercises and yoga; I practice for three to four hours. I begin training at 7 am and end around 11. The next three hours I devote to my finances, income tax and other related matters. Then I rest for couple of hours before going for another round of practice from 4.30 to 7 or till it gets dark. Since I have chosen to be a sportsman I have to sacrifice a lot and make compromises. Late night parties are out of my schedule, unless or until a friend of mine is the host and going there becomes an obligation. I hit the bed by 9.30 pm and am asleep by 10.

At what age did you start knocking the golf ball?

Since my dad was in the army I used to frequent the golf courses with him once in a while. I think I was 14 years old when I began playing golf in Nagrota, in Jammu district of Jammu and Kashmir. I did pick up a club when I was in the second standard, but there were other things in my mind at that time. I went for all India sub-juniors and played and won the tournament. That was in Chandigarh. I never looked back after that.

When did you decide to turn professional?

I think it was in 1994 that I thought I could make a living out of golf.  I made this decision after I had won a couple of tournaments at home. I realized that I was making more money than I would as an officer in the Indian army. I decided to stick to it and there I am before you now, a professional golfer.

I did not plan to be the best in the country or Asia; it just happened and I took it in my stride.

What was your reaction when you started winning tournaments?

It is very difficult to pin point one victory which really helped me in my professional career. As I said, the sub-junior title in 1986 was the stepping-stone to keep playing golf. Then I won the All India Amateur Championship in 1993. Soon after I turned professional in 1994 I won a tournament in Mumbai. In 1998 I won the Hero Honda Masters, which was part of the Asian circuit. The year 2000 was special for me in the sense that I won both the Indian Open as well as the Singapore Open. The Singapore Open was my first international victory. Then I won the Order of Merit in Malaysia and later a tournament in Japan. I am happy that I have had a gradual upward ascent in my career as a golfer.

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