Kolkata, Dec 21 (IANS) At 18, Aditi Ashok has taken Indian golf by storm. So it came as little surprise when India's veteran golfer Arjun Atwal put her in the front row for inspiring the next generation of female golfers.
From finishing as high as 41st -- India's best finish -- at the Rio Olympics where golf was re-instated after a 112-year hiatus, to winning two titles in two weeks, a historic feat, Aditi is the first Indian woman golfer after Smriti Mehra to create ripples across not only the fraternity but beyond.
"I have never met her. I have never seen her play. But I have obviously watched her scores and the tournaments she has played in and I think it's fantastic for Indian golf, more so for women's golf," Atwal told IANS in an interview at the picturesque Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) ahead of the season-ending PGTI McLeod Russel Tour Championship which begins on December 22.
"When you look at it, you know, we have only had one player from India who made it to the LPGA Tour and now she is the second one.
"I think with Aditi Ashok being so young, it's fantastic for golf what she is doing. As for women's golf, I'm all for them to be getting better because it's a fairly new sport for professional women in India.
"I hope a lot of kids take it up and they encourage women to play golf," said Atwal, who like Aditi did a first in Indian golf when he won a European Tour event by notching up a five-stroke victory in the 2002 Singapore Masters.
Aditi scripted history in November when she became the first Indian woman to win a Ladies European Tour title by clinching the Women's Indian Open. In her next event, the Qatar Ladies Open, Aditi shot a final round of three-under-par 69 to bag the title along with the Ladies European Tour's 'Rookie of the Year' award.
"At 18, what she is doing, I don't think of a reason why a lot of girls can't do that. She is an inspiration for the younger generation," Atwal said.
Atwal, who was among the three most prominent golfers of the country for over a decade along with Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa, put his weight behind the future of the niche sport in India, saying youngsters are more serious about golf nowadays.
"I think it's (future of Indian golf) fantastic," Atwal quipped.
"For golf not being a popular sport in India, I think we are producing a lot of champions. Not just talking about Jyoti, Jeev or myself.
"You look at the younger generation like S.S.P. (Chawrasia), Gaganjeet Bhullar, Anirban (Lahiri), they are doing fantastically well and even the kids coming up nowadays are more serious about golf. Even without any kind of support from sponsors.
"You don't have the support in golf like you would in cricket even though we have done as much in golf as the cricketers have done," he added.
Though saying that 2016 has been a "dismal" year for him personally as just keeping his Asian Tour card by finishing Tied 29th at the Hong Kong Open was not enough for him, the former PGA Tour winner asserted that 2016 was a good year for Indian golfers.
"I didn't win any tournament this year. I don't consider it to be anything special just to keep my card. I played decently in Hong Kong but I wasn't really concerned about trying to keep my card on the Asian Tour or anything, I just wanted to play well and try and win the tournament but that did not happen. It was a very dismal year I would say.
"But for Indian golfers it was a good year. I think with SSP winning twice, Gaganjeet winning twice, Aditi Ashok winning twice, it was a really good year for Indians," the 43-year-old said.
Both Chawrasia and Bhullar returned to form this year with twin titles while Indian golf's poster boy Lahiri and Chawrasia had the distinction of making it to Rio as well with Aditi.
Lahiri had a topsy-turvy year, twice coming close to winning titles at the Macau Open and CIMB Classic in October.
"He is a good player," Atwal said of the 77th ranked golfer.
"I have played with him a few times. He has been doing really well over the last few years and is playing in the PGA tour now. I think he is going to do really well. He has got a very mature head on his shoulders. My advice to him would be to keep doing what he is doing. It's working. So why do anything else."
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)