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As the rest falter, SSP Chawrasia comes to the four

In spite of the knowledge that this isn’t the first time that SSP has won a big-ticket event at home. I

Written by Daksh Panwar | Gurgaon |
March 14, 2017 1:32:34 am
SSP Chawrasia

For all of us, SSP Chawrasia is like a Christmas flick.

In an inherently solitary pursuit such as golf, it is paradoxical to see so many different people from different backgrounds partaking in the celebration of one man’s success. Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia, the self-effacing golfer from Kolkata, wins the Hero Indian Open by seven strokes, and there isn’t one soul at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon on Sunday evening that has remained unaffected when he lifts the trophy. In spite of the knowledge that this isn’t the first time that SSP has won a big-ticket event at home. In fact, he is the defending champion at the Indian Open, to go with two other European Tour wins on home soil.

But here’s the thing: An SSP victory is like that favourite feel-good movie of yours that you have seen hundreds of times, but it will still make you put the TV remote aside and lean back one more time if you chance upon it. You know the flashback: Son of a greenkeeper at the Royal Calcutta Golf Course; lurking behind the bushes and trees to see the golfers play; chased away by the strict staff. You are well aware of what comes in the middle part: repeated heartbreaks at the Indian Open and weird disqualifications from winning positions on the Asian Tour (for forgetting to sign the card). You know the uplifting climax like the back of your hand: The underdog’s breakthrough triumph in the midst of golfing superstars at the 2008 Indian Masters, the biggest tournament that India has ever hosted. Unlike a movie, however, where the director imposes his vision on you, your takeaways from ‘the SSP movie’ are entirely personal. They vary depending on who you are — a fan, journalist, fellow golfer or a caddie/greenkeeper.

For a casual fan, he is a blockbuster.

SSP’s game has an apparent weakness. He is rather conservative off the tee. Maybe it has something to do with his physiognomy. He’s five-foot-six and modestly built. His swing is a chore at best, though effective. If it’s a par-four, he would prefer to make the green in two even if the fellow golfers are reaching there in one. But this weakness turns the green into a compelling theater. SSP, in order to survive, either has to produce a stunning approach — as he did on the ninth — or produce a sensational putt — which he conjured up on the eighth. In the first case, he hit his second shot from 130 yards to barely five feet off the hole on a precarious green. An inch here or there, and the ball would’ve rolled off down the slope. On the previous hole, his approach had left him with a 15 feet up-and-down putt. He drained it as calmly as if it were a tap-in. The twin birdies put him back at 10-under. He would finish on this score on a course that was a nightmare for most. And he did it by not attacking off the tee, but being aggressive with the putter. The latter being the operative part in golf, the large galleries that followed him over four days thoroughly loved him.

For a journalist, he is an underachiever.

You wouldn’t say that about someone who has won four events on the European Tour. No Indian has won as many, except Jeev Milkha Singh. But “when will you start doing well abroad” is a question that frequently crops up at his press conference. It did on Sunday. The thing is that for such a talented golfer, to have won only one title abroad — the Asian Tour Manila World Masters last year — is a bit underwhelming. There were lots of expectations from SSP after he got a three-year European Tour card following his Indian Masters win. He was barely the same player in Europe. His second European win came at the Avantha Masters three years later, in India. The third, a further five years on at the Indian Open last year.

Unwittingly, during the course of the Sunday presser, though, SSP betrayed the possible reason for his poor performance in Europe. It was a cool March evening and SSP was shivering as a few spectators, celebrating his win and Holi, poured water on him after the final putt. As he was carrying no change of clothes, he wrapped himself in towels for comfort and warmth as he answered the press’s query. Years ago, when he lost his European Tour card, in a casual conversation he had told a journalist that cold climes of Europe didn’t suit him. “Kambal odh ke to drive nahi maar sakte na (you can’t hit drives wrapped in a blanket),” he put it simply.

But he is fired up now to do well abroad. “I learned many things this week and hopefully I can play better in Europe. That’s my target next, I have to win in Europe,” SSP said.

For fellow golfers, he is a bulldog.

Anirban Lahiri has had many a memorable duels with SSP Chawrasia in the recent past at the Indian Open. They both finished tied second in 2013, and while Lahiri pipped Chawrasia to the post in 2015, the latter returned the favour the following year. “He is really gritty, he’s like a bulldog. He gets in there and he doesn’t let go. And that’s a really good quality to have especially on this golf course,” Lahiri said of him before the tournament. He couldn’t have called it more accurately. SSP was the only player in the field who didn’t play an over-par round. He began with an even-par first round, before slowly working his way up the ladder. He had a share of the lead on Saturday when the third round was suspended. He added three more birdies to his score to open up a two-shot lead going into the final round. There was no way now he was going to give anyone a whiff. At the 18th, when SSP arrived he saw Anirban was there in the grandstand.

“Before the putt, Anirban was signalling to me, showing thumbs up and saying great but you won’t win again last year.” SSP and laughed. “It was good fun.”

For caddies/greenkeepers, he is hope.

The caddies and the greenkeepers, the scorecard carriers and the security staff, the janitors and even the labourers — they all had a smile on their face and a spring in their steps on Sunday. “Hamara favourite player to ye hi hai,” said Ram Dev, who stood in a group of DLF Golf and Country Club caddies, waiting alongside affluent patrons for their man as he walked down the 18th fairway. “Bhagaane-wali mari hai,” Ram Dev clapped wildly describing in caddie-talk the approach that had no back-spin and therefore rolled on. It stopped six feet off the hole. “Baki sab to players hain, ye apne jaisa hai. Caddie hai,” said the greenkeeper Rahul, joining in the conversation. By “players”, Rahul meant gentlemen pros. SSP “caddie hai” meant SSP came from across the divide. “Jeeta to wo apne liye hai, par isse ham jaise logon ko bhi ummeed milti hai,” Ram Dev concluded as SSP holed in the putt and took off his cap in acknowledgement.

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