Bengaluru: Rayhan Thomas started liking golf as a seven-year-old because he fancied the feeling of hitting something hard. For a four-year-old Aadil Bedi, golf was a good substitute for batting in cricket, a sport that his father didn’t fancy him to pursue. For Harimohan Singh, the thrill of watching the 1.7-inch pockmarked white ball soar high into the sky was why he wanted to play the sport.
The trio’s childhood fascination has become their lives’ primary pursuit. All three are looking to play golf at the highest level, where Indians are still struggling to make a mark. For now, however, the focus is on the Asian Games, where they – along with Kshitij Navid Kaul – will represent the Indian men’s golf squad.
Kaul apart, the rest of the men are at the Karnataka Golf Association’s golf course, taking part in the TAKE Solutions Masters 2018 – their last tournament ahead of the Asian Games in Jakarta.
Asian Games: An experience of a lifetime
For Harimohan, 24, son of MP Singh, a former hockey player and Arjuna awardee, participating in the Asian Games is one of his biggest goals. He reckons playing for country is a “completely different” feeling.
“Playing a pro event, not a lot of people are there,” he says. “But at the Asian Games, the whole nation is behind you. If I win the medal there, that’ll be one of the best victories.”
To participate in the Asian Games, he hasn’t turned a professional yet. A professional golfer cannot represent their country in the quadrennial event. But the 24-year-old almost missed the opportunity that he’d been waiting for for years.
On the first day of the Asian Games trials, he came last. “This can’t be,” he’d thought then, almost alarmed by his fate. “But I didn’t give up hope. I gave my 100% everyday. Everyday the goal was there on my mind. I hadn’t turned pro because of this. And if I didn’t make it, it would have been like a setback. Finally, on the last day, I made the cut.”
His 17-year-old teammate Aadil, too, is waiting eagerly for the Asian Games, which will be his first multi-sport event.
“Golf is an individual sport,” he says. “So every chance we can play as a team, we take it. There are only few events we can play as a team – the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. It is where the players get to enjoy. The Asian Games is the same for us the amateur level, so I’ll relish the experience for the rest of my life.”
Harimohan reckons golf isn’t an easy sport to pursue in India because of the high expenditure of time and money. “You can’t expect better results overnight, or a week or in a month. It takes years to practice and reach where you want to be,” he says.
If Aadil, at 17, is representing India at the Asian Games, it’s because he started playing the sport at four. He’d asked his father, after watching him play at the Chandigarh Golf Association, for a small club. Like most aspiring golfers of that age he, too, was amazed and inspired by Tiger Woods’s continuous feats of genius.
“I was amazed by the things that he could do as an athlete, he could do as a golfer. I just wanted to become like that,” he says.
In October or November this year, he says, he will turn professional. The PGA Tour is where he wants to be. Victories there are what he wants to get. His ambitions are clear but they don’t seem to disturb his focus. The attention should be on the process that will lead him and his team to an Asian Games medal than the medal itself, he says.
Rayhan is positive, too, about his and his team’s chances of a podium finish in Jakarta. The conditions there, he says, are similar to what he’s experiencing at KGA. Competing with the best players in Asia on a course similar to the one in Jakarta will help, he reckons.
His tryst with the sport began as a seven-year-old in a golf store in Dubai, where his dad had gone to repair some clubs. He picked up a few clubs that stood on the side and started hitting the ball, as hard as he could, into a makeshift net there. A year later, he joined the junior development programme at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. Within another 10 years, he became the first amateur to win a MENA Tour event.
Next year, he’ll be off to Oklahoma State University for college. He’ll decide then if he wants to turn pro or not. For now, he’s having a good time bonding with his teammates.
“I think the fact that we are a team makes us want to interact more,” he says. “So, we track our schedules, events we are playing, our games and things like that. We stay together in our camps.”
After the TAKE Solutions Masters 2018, the trio will be off to New Delhi for their third and final camp that will go on till August 17. After that will be the event that might lend more significance to the moments when they had picked up a golf club for the first time in their lives.