Exclusive Interview with Gaganjeet Bhullar: "5 years from now, I see myself in the PGA Tour"
Those who have been keenly following Indian golf in the past few years would know the importance of a 24-year-old Gaganjeet Bhullar. After winning the World Junior Masters Championship at just 17 years of age, this precocious young talent was always tipped to make a huge impact on the Indian golf circuit. Bhullar has been one of those few golfers from our country who has shown the potential to compete with the best in the world, as he showed with back to back Asian tour titles in late 2012 that helped him break into the top 100 of the world rankings. Only a few golfers (including India’s No.1 Jeev Milkha Singh) have attained this feat, but it’s the age and the amount of talent that he brings on the course that makes you feel increasingly optimistic of his chances to be the next golfing icon of our country. Bhullar recently had a candid talk with Sportskeeda on his form and his short-term objectives. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
From the Abu Dhabi Championship to the Louis Philippe Open, it’s been quite a roller coaster season for you. How do you rate your start to the new season?
Well, I would say the start has been very positive. I mean, not in terms of overall performances, but when you look into the individual scores in the Louis Philippe Open and Pearls Golf Premier League, they were quite satisfying. I think it has been a great start to the season, and I can smell a lot of success this year. Apart from missing the cut at Abu Dhabi by a whisker, I think I’ve been pretty much in the right zone. As of now, all the preparations are well on track for the upcoming SAIL Open, the Avantha Masters and the Malaysian Open. So, yes, I will definitely look to build on the momentum.
Although your team lost on the final day at the Pearls Golf Premier League, you were in magnificent form all weekend. With an innovative team format and a day-night set-up, how was your experience at Aamby Valley?
Of course we loved it. As golf is predominantly an individual game, playing in a team format was very exciting. With its resounding success, I really expect the tournament to flourish in the upcoming years in our country. I think we discussed the format thoroughly on paper and it was certainly well received by golf enthusiasts. Although, there’s always a scope for improvement, and I think telecasting a sport like golf needs a completely different set-up. You need a well-equipped team of 100-150 operators to broadcast a golfing event, and I think that trend will be gradually picked up by Indian sports channels.
You had already made your intentions clear ahead of the season, that you will be aiming for the World top 50. Would you still stick to the same objective?
Definitely! I know I’m on the right highway, and it’s just a matter of time till I improve on my ranking. Actually, I’ve lost a few places on the rankings as there wasn’t much golf happening on the European Tour calendar. No doubt I was in good form in the past few weeks, but none of those tournaments were to improve on my World Ranking points. So, once I put up some good performances, I expect my ranking to rise consistently. All I need is a head start in the next few tournaments, and will certainly look to break into the Top 50 by the end of the season.
Are you aware of the fact that fans and media have been expecting a lot from you in the upcoming Avantha Masters? Looking forward to that challenge?
Why not! Firstly, let me make this clear that I don’t have any pressure on the back of my mind. I’ve played well on this stage before, so all I want to do is to play my own game. Also, this time the Avantha Masters will be held at Jaypee Greens, which is one of my favourite golf courses in the country. I’ve played some pretty decent rounds of golf on this venue, and I expect myself to deliver.
Our country has always produced talented golfers, yet it’s consistency that very few have been able to attain for a long span of time on the golf circuit. What’s your take on this issue?
Well, to be honest, I really don’t have an answer to this question. As you’d have noticed, the common thing between Jeev and me has been that we’ve been playing a lot of tournaments throughout the season – all to gather the right amount of experience and momentum to counter a variety of conditions. I believe in the fact that the more you play, the better you’re going to be. Moreover, it’s about making the most of your purple patch. For example, last September, I felt I was playing really well and that’s why I didn’t lay back for a single week. I played 14 weeks in a row, as I knew that was the right time to gain some crucial World Ranking points and to make a massive jump on the Asian Tour of Merit. So, when I look back to that decision, I would say it was certainly one that paid off.
Having already played in a few tournaments this season, what element of your game do you think needs some fine tuning?
It has to be my short game. I believe driving and chipping improves gradually when you spend enough time on the tour, but it’s the putting that you can improve throughout your career. Also, the mindset is another important factor, considering it’s always important to build on the starts and convert them into victories – and that’s something you won’t find in any teaching manuals.
What’s your source of inspiration when things are not going as planned for you on the golf course?
You know, some players struggle to keep up with the game on a bad day, while others just move on and take it as just another day when you need to improve – and I tend to fall in the latter half of the players. I don’t depend on a source of motivation to keep me going on the course. Whether is 7 under or 2 over par, I’d still prefer giving my 100 percent every single time I step out to compete.
Golf isn’t something that is easily accepted in a country that religiously follows cricket and football. Do you think competitions like the Golf Premier League, and the introduction of the game in the upcoming Rio Games would help its branding in our country?
Of course, it will help, but we need to go step by step. Matching cricket or football in terms of popularity would be just setting unrealistic targets, yet we can aim for it to be as recognized and respected as tennis or badminton in our country. However, when we look at the brighter side, investments are coming in to golf in significant amounts. Indian players on the tour do have sponsorship backups, and more recently, I’ve seen kids choosing golf as a career, people have started reading golf updates in newspapers. And we should be proud of attaining such milestones in our country.
All I can say is that it will take 20-30 years from now for golf to announce itself on the Indian map, but it will eventually happen. I remember 10 years ago, at the airport check-in counters, people wouldn’t even know what golf bags looked like, and now at those very same places, people actually recognize us; even ask for our autographs at times, which is really pleasing.
How do you rate PGTI’s contributions to the game in the country? Do you expect more European and Asian Tour events to be organized in the country?
Well, PGTI has been excellent in bringing new tournaments and also raising new talents that can compete at the highest level. Talking about quality tournaments, we have the Hero Indian Open, which hosts a strong golfing field of all the Asian tour events in the season. So, yes, they have been doing pretty well to improve the golfing scenario of the country.
So, do you think it won’t be long before we see the likes of Tigers and Rory’s playing on an Indian course?
It will happen. See the prize money of the Indian Open, a few years back, was around $300,000. Now its up to $1.2 million, which is due to a significant surge of investments in the sport – And I believe we can only go forward from here.
Coming back to your golfing career, where does Gaganjeet Bhullar sees himself 5 years from now?
Well, I’ve got just one quick answer for this one – It’s the PGA tour! PGA tour is my goal, and the way things are shaping up, I see myself competing with the very best pretty soon.
Do you feel the weight of added responsibilities considering you are touted to potentially be one of the country’s most prominent golf icons?
Well, someone has to take the responsibility! It could be me or it could be anybody else. But there has to be someone to ensure that golf in India is heading on the right path. Obviously, Jeev has provided us youngsters a direction to follow, and I do understand that few years down the line, people will expect a lot out of me to boost the game in our country. Every generation needs a hero, and without the right inspiration, things would cease to improve. So someone has to take the initiative.
A rapid-fire stroke-play with Gaganjeet
Favourite Indian golfer
It has to be Jyoti Randhawa.
Favourite golfer of all time
Most memorable golfing moment
My first Asian Tour title in Indonesia in 2006.
Favorite golf course
Sentosa Golf Club, Singapore.
A place you visit frequently when not golfing
If given a choice, which Major tournament would you like to win first?
The Augusta Masters.
If not a golfer, Gaganjeet Bhullar would’ve been…
Haven’t really given it a thought, but it would’ve been Services.
Every golfer has a nickname, what would it be for Gaganjeet Bhullar?
Ha! It’s Gags.
What do you think will happen first – Rory winning 5 Majors or Tiger breaking Nicklaus’ magic number?
This is a tricky one! Though, I’d go with Rory getting his 5 Majors.
Lastly, what is your message for the budding golfing enthusiasts who are looking to emulate you in the near future?
Self motivation, discipline and hard work – without them in your bag, it’s impossible achieve your goals. So keep looking for the right opportunities!