The last time golf was played at the biggest sporting extravaganza in the world, India as a country did not even exist. It was way back at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis in the United States when a men’s individual and team event were held with only the host nation and Canada as the participant nations.
The long exile will, however, come to an end in Rio de Janeiro as golf is set to make a comeback at the 2016 Olympics. An exile of a different sort has started though – some of the sport’s top athletes have already withdrawn from the sport, citing the Zika virus as a possible threat.
Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory Mcllroy, the world’s top four male golfers, have already announced that they are pulling out of the event. In fact, only four golfers in the top ten will take participate in the Games and the number of withdrawals has already hit the 20 mark.
The high number of pullouts had led to criticism from different quarters who believe golfers are using the Zika virus as a convenient excuse since the Olympics does not rank high on their agenda. This was further reinforced when Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, a four-time golf major champion, admitted that he would probably not even be watching golf at the Olympics, instead preferring to watch “the stuff that matters” – track and field, swimming, diving and others.
The International Olympic Committee is understandably not amused. Their president Thomas Bach confirmed that they would take these withdrawals from golf into account when they considered what sports to include for the next Olympics.
“One of the main categories is the question of participation by the best players,” warned Bach. However in all this, there might just be a silver lining for Indian medal prospects.
India will be represented in golf at the Olympics by the trio of Anirban Lahiri, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia and Aditi Ashok, and with so many top golfers pulling out, their chances of a medal could potentially increase.
Anirban Lahiri leads the charge
The 29-year-old Anirban Lahiri will be one of India’s top medal prospects once the games get underway in Rio. Ranked 62nd in the world, Lahiri has been the hot new face of Indian golf in the past few years and has already set new distinctions. He was voted the Asian Tour Golfer of the Year in February and finished fifth at the elite Professional Golfers’ Association Tour in August, the highest finish by an Indian professional golfer in a major. Lahiri’s impressive rise also earned him a place in the 2015 Presidents Cup squad, the first player from India to do so.
Not surprisingly, Lahiri’s achievements have earned him praise from none other than golf legend Tiger Woods, who spoke highly about his capabilities and said that golf would explode in India if Lahiri managed to win a medal.
The veteran SSP Chawrasia
Thirty-eight-year old Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia is a veteran on the Indian golf circuit, but his story is one for the ages. His father was a greenskeeper (a person responsible for the upkeep of a golf course) at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club in Kolkata and Chawrasia picked up golf in his formative years. His initial years were spent being a caddie for golfers at the club. Chawrasia’s big breakthrough came at the 2008 Indian Masters when he defeated big names to win the title.
Chawrasia has three European Tour wins and four Asian Tour wins to his name and will be going into the Olympics in good form – he recently won the Indian Open in March, edging out Lahiri who finished runners-up in that tournament.
The prodigious Aditi Ashok
Bengaluru girl Aditi Ashok is just 18, but she’s already been blazing a trail in the women’s golf circuit. The three-time National Junior Champion made history in December last year by becoming the youngest and first Indian to win the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Aicha Tour School. She is part of the Ladies European Tour for 2016 and is ranked 57th on the official Olympic golf rankings.
The teenager has already shown a lot of promise in her fledgling career and, at just 18, her best is yet to come. Look out for this talent at the Olympics. She might just be one of the dark horses.