Seven years ago, Ernie Els predicted India would embrace golf and produce world-class players.
Els made that prediction at the 2008 Indian Masters, the European Tour’s first event in India. That prediction looks eerily prescient given what Anirban Lahiri has done in winning two of the last three European Tour events, the Malaysian and Indian opens.
When asked to compare the development of golf in China and India, Els said, “They play a lot of ball sports here, like hockey and cricket and tennis, and so the ball sense is there for the youngsters. So for them to pick up golf it might be easier than it is for the youngsters in China.”
Els was speaking at a time when Jeev Milkha Singh was winning on the European Tour, and players like Joti Randawa and Shiv Kapur were doing well. Three-time European Tour winner Arjun Atwal was playing on the PGA Tour.
S.S.P. Chowrasia won the Indian Masters in 2008. He also won the event in 2011.
Lahiri joins Chowrasia, Atwal and Singh as the only four Indians to win on the European Tour.
Singh won the 2012 Scottish Open, his fourth European Tour title, and had been Europe’s most recent Indian winner until Lahiri’s exploits.
Is the 27-year-old set to inspire another generation of Indian golfers as Singh and Atwal did? It wouldn’t be wise to bet against it.
Lahiri’s latest win makes a Masters invitation a certainty. He’ll become only the third Indian to play in the Masters, following Singh and Atwal.
Singh made history in 2007 when he became the first Indian to play Augusta. He finished a respectable 37th. He finished 25th in 2008 and missed the cut in 2009. Atwal made his only appearance in 2011, but missed the cut.
Not many people expect Lahiri to contend on his first visit to Augusta National, but don’t be surprised if it’s not his last visit. He has proved over the past three weeks that he’s the real deal.
Els said back in 2008 that he expected Indian golfers to contend for major titles in the not-too-distant future. His reference to Indians having “a lot of ball sense” came from the country’s passion for cricket.
While golf will never come close to arousing the same passion in Indians as cricket does, golf is growing in the world’s second-most populated country.
The Professional Golf Tour of India has been in operation since 2006. It began with the simple goal of producing golfers good enough to play on the European and PGA tours.
Lahiri and Chowrasia’s performances prove it has succeeded in achieving its goal. There are others waiting to follow.
How long until we see an Indian major winner? That day could come sooner than you think.