How do you see the current health of Indian golf?
It’s the fastest growing sport in the country. But there is much room for improvement. Real growth of golf will come in Tier Two cities and smaller towns. The focus is on big cities: Delhi, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Chennai, which have huge infrastructure. We need to go to smaller towns to put the game on par with cricket, hockey and football.
How can golf shed its image as a rich man’s sport?
Five to ten years back, it was seen as an elite game confined to big cities. But that it is changing. Golf is becoming affordable. Access is becoming easier. We need more public golf courses where one can pay 100 and 200 rupees and play. We need more government involvement so that the expenses can be subsidised. For a private entity, gold can be profitable only if it attains Olympic standards. Only then will the game grow.
Is corporate support for golf in India adequate?
It is getting better. Initially there was not enough corporate backing. A few individuals are doing it but on a mass scale it is not the kind of influx of corporates you see in cricket and other sports. Until the game itself goes to the masses and gets the basic facilities, it won’t get the kind of corporate support that is required. Facilities are always provided by the government bodies and then corporates come and give financial backing for organising different tournaments. It is the same everywhere: US, Japan and Korea.
Do you feel we lack good golf courses in India?
Yes but the growth of the game doesn’t necessarily depend on golf courses. It comes from learning the game and learning the game happens at the grassroots level.
Golf is being introduced in the Olympic Games from 2016. Are Indian golfers ready to make their presence felt there?
There are three of us playing on the European Tour, which is the highest level of golf. We are established winners at the highest level. If you look at that, if you can compete at the highest level in the world, there is no reason why you cant compete in the Olympics. The question is, “are the present players going to be there in the next four-five years?” Will there be Indian golfers carrying on the sevel level four or five years down the line? The like of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps have shown that they can carry on with the momentum but such athletes are few and far between. We need to train our youngsters. We need to groom future golfers so that we can produce quality players all the time at the same level. Do we have Olympic medal hopes in golf? We probably do, considering the kind of players we have. We have to produce a steady stream ofer number of junior golfers in the age group of 18 to 22 to boost our chances.
How much more time would India need to produce world class golfers. When will we produce our own Tiger Woods?
See, we are not going to get a Tiger Woods any time soon. He is exceptional. He is like Sachin Tendulker in cricket. I don’t like to put a timeline on it but I really feel that the pace with which it is growing and if continues to do so for the next 15 to 20 years, India will be a golf powerhouses, among the top five countries. If you look at the Asian tour structure, ten years ago only one or two Indians were at the top but now ten to 15 Indians are in the mix. If you take baby steps, you can’t go from zero to hundred in one second. It will take time.
Do you feel there is enough international tournaments happening in India?
I don’t think so. I don’t feel we organise enough tournaments. We have a European tour event, and a few Asian tour events. As far as exposure of the players goes, there is enough. You will keep growing as the game grows. We have a European Tour event. Three years hence we should look at two. We shouldn’t be pursuing tournaments without any plan. Look at cricket. The launch of IPL has killed the motivation to play for the nation.
What are your future plans? Have you set any specific targets for yourself?
I have 10 to 12 events left this season. Obviously winning is my main goal. I am targetting a tour title by the end of this year. If I achieve that goal, other goals will take care of themselves. So my only goal is to register a victory before the year ends.
When you stop competing as a professional golfer, how would you like to associate yourself with this game?
I will always be engaged with golf. It’s my life and livelihood. Whether it will be running golf academies or writing books on golf or training kids or designing golf courses, I will be involved. I am not like those who sit idle. I know I will be busy managing players and the game of golf.
You closely followed Olympic 2012. Do you feel some of the athletes really surprised us?
I don’t know why they surprised people. This is a country with so much potential. We are a nation of more than one billion people. There is huge untapped potential out there. Some people are lucky as they come from the armed forces and have easy access to shooting. With golf as well, once you get the access of the game, the sky is the limit.
You travel around the world? Do you really feel India can compete in all sports at the global level?
I think you need to recognise certain drawbacks. Genetically we are not the strongest. We won’t see a top 100m sprinter coming out of India. Certain things are limited by genes. In sports like golf, tennis, cricket and shooting, we are genetically competitive. So I think we should continue making the progress we are making. And slowly and steadily we can be among the best in some disciplines. I don’t think we should be celebrating our six Olympic medals the way we are. We should celebrate only when we get 40-50 medals like China.