India and its love for cricket hold promise for golf

The 2010 Avantha Masters

The 2010 Avantha Masters

Indian golfers account for just under a quarter of the field in this week’s Avantha Masters. If you were looking for signs of where future Asian major winners might come from, then that stat should give you a clue.

This week’s European Tour event is a tri-sanctioned tournament among the European Tour, Asian Tour and the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI). Twenty-nine Indian golfers from a field of 132 will tee it up at the DLF Golf and Country Club.

Compare this field with the recent desert swing through the Middle East. Except for a few token amateurs, Arab golfers were conspicuous by their absence from the four events held in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai. There’s a good reason why homegrown talent didn’t play in these tournaments. There is none.

The European Tour has been visiting the Middle East since 1989. Yet in that time there have been no Arab golfers of any note ready to play in Middle Eastern tournaments.

India is different. There is a burgeoning golf tour in the country, the PGTI. The circuit was formed in 2006 to give Indian golfers the chance to develop their games. It’s doing a pretty good job. There were 33 events on last year’s PGTI schedule.

Talk to most people about the future of golf and many point to China as the country that will produce future major winners. Ernie Els isn’t so sure.

Els played in the first European Tour event in India when he teed it up in the 2008 Indian Masters at Delhi Golf Club. Els believes Indian golfers have a big future in the game for one main reason – cricket.

“China is definitely going to be big, but I think maybe Indian golfers have the edge because they play so much cricket,” Els said. “They already have a natural feel for a bat and ball game, and I think they will develop faster because of that.”

Fittingly, India’s S. S. P. Chowrasia won the first European tournament played in India to justify Els’ statement.

The European Tour does a good job of assimilating local golfers into many of the tournaments it plays around the world. Challenge Tour events usually include a sizeable portion of players from the country in which the event is being played. For example, the first event on this year’s European Challenge Tour was held in India. Fifty-one Indian golfers took part in the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, with Gaganjeet Bhullar emerging as the winner.

As the game grows around the world, emerging golf nations should encourage their players to take on the world’s best. The European Tour is facilitating that goal this week, and that can only be good for the sport.

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