A nostalgic smile flashes across Jeev Milkha Singh’s face as he narrates stories of his legendary father’s experiences at the Olympics — the life at the Village, the bonhomie of the Games and the general thrill of ‘representing the nation.’ He reiterates his ‘dream’ of being there for the Rio games.
But languishing at 897th position in the world after three injury-troubled years, he knows only a miracle can get him to Rio. Or a string of good performances, starting today at the Delhi Golf Club.
The Indian Open has always been a tournament of great significance for Indian golfers, not least because it’s the only Asian and European Tour sanctioned event. This week, though, the tournament assumes extra importance as it may go a long way in deciding which two golfers will represent India at the Rio Games this August.
Anirban Lahiri has virtually sealed his spot and is set to lead the two-man Indian team at the Games. But the tussle for the second spot is fast gaining momentum. As things stand, SSP Chawrasia (ranked 243) is the front runner to partner Lahiri in Rio. As on Wednesday, the three-time international winner is placed 50th in the Olympic rankings created by the International Golf Federation (IGF) while Lahiri is ranked a comfortable 26th. “It’s an important tournament in that sense. Everyone is keen to get some ranking points so it will be a tough contest among Indians,” Lahiri says.
The Olympic rankings are calculated depending on the strength of field at each tournament and determines how many ranking points will be awarded to top finishers. Points are awarded to players based on their finish positions in each event, with performances in stronger field events earning more points in accordance with a points distribution table approved by the IGF.
According to the IGF website, the top-15 world-ranked players will be eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from a given country. Beyond the top-15, players will be eligible based on the world rankings, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top-15.
The Indian Open can be a turning point in the race to Rio for Indian golfers as the tournament provides an opportunity to the likes of Chiragh Kumar (290), Rashid Khan (343) and Rahil Gangjee (357) to close the gap on Chawrasia.
Lahiri’s practice partner and close friend S Chikkarangappa (366) too will be keen to rack up some crucial points so will Jeev, who will have to do exceedingly well to leapfrog the rest and follow his father’s footsteps to be a part of the Olympics. Jeev earned his first top-10 finish in three years in Thailand last Sunday, a result that fills him with confidence going into a tournament which he hasn’t won before.
Golf is making a return to the Olympics after the 1904 Games and the sports ministry has identified the sport as a medal potential, going by Lahiri’s form over the last 12 months. And even though he remains the favourite this week to defend his title ahead of seasoned pros like Padraig Harrington, the focus is firmly on how the fight for the second Olympic spot shapes up.