‘Satisfying win’

Something about the Kolkata air must agree with Himmat Singh Rai,because it surely can’t be just coincidence. The Delhi golfer had won two titles in the eastern city as an amateur.

Written by Aabha Rathee | New Delhi | Published: February 10, 2009 11:49 pm

Delhi golfer Himmat Singh Rai cherishes his first pro title

Something about the Kolkata air must agree with Himmat Singh Rai,because it surely can’t be just coincidence. The Delhi golfer had won two titles in the eastern city as an amateur. Last week,two years after he turned professional and after several close shaves,Rai completed his first pro circuit win,at the PGTI Players’ Championship at the Tollygunge Club,where else but in Kolkata.

Rai,who turned 21 in May this last year,is the youngest player to win on the current domestic circuit,and the winning feeling has put him on a high. “It just feels excellent to be a winner,” Rai says,speaking to Sportline on Monday. “Moreover,I led the tournament from start to finish,so it was extremely satisfying,” he says.

Rai shot into a two-shot lead on the first day,his round of five-under 65 one that he will remember for long. “That round was the key,as it gave me a headstart,” he says.

Rai last got to lift a trophy in 2006 — at the All India matchplay — and the end of the three-year wait is almost a relief. Though,he says,it is a completely different ball game to win on the amateur circuit and as a professional. “I think it’s mentally just a liberating feeling to win on the professional circuit. The quality of play obviously goes up on the pro circuit,but more than that,it’s just the pressure of winning that is so different,” he says.

The youngster is also happy that after two years of consistently good performances on the circuit,he finally has a victory to show. “It is a sort of assurance. An affirmation that you’re on the right track,what you’re doing is correct,” he says.

Dramatic victory
Rai’s two-shot victory was not without drama,though. Having gone into the last day with just a one-shot lead,Rai was given some breathing space by nearest challenger Sanjay Kumar bogeying the ninth hole. But making the turn with a two-shot lead,Rai probably relaxed just a little,dropped shots on the 12th and the 14th,and suddenly the scores were level. Rai kept his head,though,birdying the 16th and going ahead again. On the par-three 18th,he attacked the green,putting pressure on Kumar,who had to chip out from the rough. “The 16th was a good 30-foot putt,so that going in felt really good,” he says. Kumar bogeyed the finishing hole,expanding Rai’s winning margin to two shots.

Rai was back practising the day after that last round,with another tournament starting on Tuesday — the Solaris Chemtech Open at the Golden Greens club in Gurgaon,much closer home.

The Venkateshwara College student had stayed painfully short of securing his Asian Tour card last month,finishing a shot back from the full card score at the qualifying school. And he thinks that might have come with a silver lining. “I would probably have been in Asia this week,but I played here,so I guess everything happens for the good,” he says. That close miss did result in Rai getting a conditional Asian Tour card,so he’s looking forward to some starts and good performances on the bigger stage.

Rashid going for record
Noida: It’s a chance to make history for Rashid Khan. The Delhi boy,back in the field after his international commitments,will be going for his fourth straight win on this season’s LG Amateur Tour as the Noida Open begins from Tuesday.

The national consecutive amateur wins record is held by Gaganjeet Bhullar,who won five in a row in 2005-06. “Now that there are no other international commitments,I am looking to make the most of the next three tournaments and hopefully can continue the winning run,” Rashid said on Monday.

Rashid will have to contend with a one of the strongest fields this season,with all the top names on the tour slugging it out at the par-72 Noida Golf Club.

The strong challenge will come in the form of veterans,including the number one player on the LG Order of merit list — Gagan Verma. Verma was recently feted by the IGU as the top amateur in the country. Based on the Order of Merit ranking,he has also been selected to represent India at the South Africa Amateur Championship along with Vikram Rana,the number two on the list.

Abhishek Jha,the only other multiple winner on tour this season,will also be a big threat. The win at the Western India Amateur Championship,propelled the Bangalore boy to fifth place on the list.

Among other names,Moin Malak,winner of the Eastern India Championship will look to add another trophy to his name.

The Noida Open will be a prelude to the All-India Championship that gets underway in Kolkata next week before the season finally ends with the Rambagh Golf Club Open in Jaipur in the first week of March. ENS

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