One need not be an observant follower of sports to realise that India remains a nation that obsesses about its cricketing culture. The country exults in raptures of joy at every Virat Kohli century and unites in dissecting each loss with a roaring rage. Yet, in a pleasantly surprising step, the citizens of India focussed less on the achievements of Ravichandran Ashwin and remained addicted to the courts of badminton and the mats of wrestling as the Rio Olympic Games got underway. With eyes firmly fixed on the stupendous achievements of Sakshi Malik, PV Sindhu and Dipa Karmakar, a teenager silently went about her routine on the golf course, even arousing hopes of an unexpected medal.

Aged just 18, Aditi Ashok became the only Indian woman golfer to qualify for the Olympics as the sport made a comeback into the quadrennial event after a gap of 112 years. Despite being 439th in the official women’s rankings, Ashok qualified for the Games after being slotted in the 57th spot by the International Golf Federation in a complicated selection procedure. With only 60 golfers making the cut for Rio, Ashok’s feat remains nothing less than awe inspiring.

A jaw-dropping amateur career

Her deep passion for golf developed after a chance breakfast with her parents alongside the driving range at the Karnataka Golf Association when she was just five. Encouraged wholeheartedly by her parents, Ashok started her amateur career two years after the golf course had smitten her. Playing with boys made her competitive and aggressive from an early age – traits which have helped her excel even when the odds seemed against her. She won her first national title when she was nine years old and earned a spot in the Indian team when she was 12 years of age, in the Asia Pacific Juniors.

A year later, she was the talk of the golf circuit after defeating older and experienced golfers to win the Ladies’ Professional Tournament, which was hosted by the Women’s Golf Association of India. Ashok refused to be overwhelmed when she participated in the Indian Open in 2012, conducted by the Ladies European Tour, finishing tied eighth, which has been her best result in a professional tournament till date. In 2011, she clinched the National Amateur Championship and replicated her achievement in 2014. She had truly emerged as one of India’s finest golfers after she won the National Junior Championship consecutively from 2012 to 2014.

The teenager, who hopes to emulate Laura Davies and remains vastly inspired by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, has won 17 titles, including six international trophies, before she turned pro this year. Not only is she the first woman golfer from India to win the St Rule Trophy, a British amateur stroke-play championship, and the Singha Thailand Amateur Championship, but she also remains the sole golfer from her country to have participated in coveted events such as the World Amateur Team Championships, Junior Open, Faldo Series Asia Grand Final and the exhibition events in the Queen Sirkit Cup.

However, 2015 was a breakthrough year in Ashok’s career. After winning the St Rule Trophy, she finished second in the European Women’s Amateur Championships. The “Nicholl’s Trophy” and the “Dinwiddy Trophy” were awarded to her as well after she finished with the lowest scores among the under-18 category. After notching up eight under par in the St Andrew’s Links last year, Ashok equalled the women amateur’s course record and eventually finished 15th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Despite being honoured with the Best Indian Amateur and the Best Asian Amateur of the year, the teenager experienced her best moment on the course after she made history and became the youngest ever golfer to win the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Aicha Tour School in Morocco, which enabled her entry into the professional field. With scores of 68, 69, 62, 68 and 70, Ashok managed to ward off stiff competition from Denmark’s Daisy Nielsen, defeating her with a three-stroke win. Having triumphed over competitors from 35 different countries only reinforced her skills and her desire to scale the summits of success.

In her short professional career, Ashok, who is coached by Malaysian Steven Giuliano, has already finished in the top 10 on two occasions in the 12 career starts since January. She has already competed in the Women’s British Open, a LPGA Championship and missed the cut by five shots. However, it was her performance in Rio which made her a household name in India.

Igniting hopes of an Olympic medal

Ashok already had a prestigious honour against her name even before the Rio Olympics got underway. Not only was she the youngest in her field, she was the only golfer from the 60 competitors who had played in the Asian Youth Games (Nanjing, 2013), the Asian Games (Incheon, 2014), the Youth Olympics (Nanjing, 2014) and the Olympic Games. Despite competing with nine of the top 10 ranked women golfers, the Bangalore teenager refused to sink under pressure, especially over the first two days in her 72-stroke event.

After briefly leading on day two, golf suddenly gained unprecedented attention as hopes of a medal from India’s youngest competitor at the Games started floating. She finished day two tied eighth with a six-under, having shot 68-68. However, her efforts were undone by the wind over the next two rounds as she faltered, shooting 79-76 before finishing 41st. However, instead of ruing her missed chances, Ashok can take heart from the fact that even Woods was a victim of the effects of the wind in the 2002 British Open, as he shot 81 to end his chances of winning that tournament.

A player to watch out for

With impressive performances on a consistent basis, one can safely assume that Ashok remains a golfer who is yet to climb the pinnacles in her sport. She would have to work on her relatively short hit, along with her stamina and strength. Having achieved great heights at such a young age, especially in a country that has only 200 golf courses, remains Ashok’s greatest legacy and one would hope she continues her journey to further stardom.