The last few years saw Gaganjeet Bhullar drop from a career-best world ranking of 85 in 2012 to no. 856 in 2015, apart from suffering a career-threatening wrist injury in 2014. Bhullar’s entry into the top-100 in the world rankings in 2012 had come with a win at the Macao Open where he led after all four rounds.
On Sunday, Bhullar once again led the field on all four days at the Macao Open for his eighth Asian Tour title, matching an Indian record held by Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa. Bhullar’s three-shot win over compatriot Ajeetesh Sandhu and Angelo Que of Philippines at the 6,624-yard Macau Golf and Country Club also brought the 237-ranked golfer a prize money of $90,000, and a rise into the top 150 of the world rankings when they will be updated on Monday.
“I was just having a chat with my caddie Tim that I had a feeling that a title is coming. The first and second round scores surely made me feel that. I had a bad round yesterday but to maintain the lead was the key. I started with a bogey today but that did not impact my nerves. I hit my second shots close and putted well. The course was playing well but this was perhaps the first time that I played in windy conditions in Macau. The tee shot at the 17th hole was an important one me and I landed the ball 15 feet from the pin. It feels special to win at Macau again,” shared Bhullar who had also won the Indonesia Open twice in his career.
With two wins – at the Shinhan Donghae Open and Indonesia Open – last year, 29-year-old Bhullar had erased the disappointment of having no top-ten finishes on the Asian Tour in 2015. This year has seen him finishing twice in the top-ten, but missing the title by two strokes at the Thailand Open where he finished tied second with Shiv Kapur earlier this year.
The last 18 months have also seen Bhullar shifting his base to Sacramento, California, where he has bought a new home and is training under coach Noah Montgomery apart from playing on different golf courses with his caddie for seven years Tim Cox.
In Macau, Bhullar had an overall GIR (Green in regulation) percentage of 83.33, and 72.22 in the first and last rounds, well above his average of 69.31 this season. Bhullar’s 23 birdies on the Hiroshi Ikeda-designed course also helped his cause.
“When I decided to shift to Sacramento, California, in 2015, I wanted to focus on my practice as the surfaces in USA are different and not crowded like in India. Playing on different golf courses in California, including the Dark Horse Golf Course, helped me adjust my game. The greens are designed with a lot of slopes and as a golfer, one experiences different approach shots every day. This summer too, I spent seven weeks with my coach Noah Montgomery and we worked on the swing. To be honest, I saw it as going to school and practise and practise to find my form, and it has worked for me,” said Bhullar.
With the Tokyo Olympics still three years away, Bhullar knows that more such wins will help his world ranking and also provide a chance to play more tournaments on the European Tour. The wrist injury in 2014 meant that Bhullar’s rankings took a dip and the Kapurthala golfer missed the flight to Rio, where golf was reintroduced at the Olympics.
With a win under his belt this year, Bhullar also plans to play on the web.com tour qualifying school in USA. With players like Ajeetesh Sandhu and Shubhankar Sharma doing well on the Asian Tour, Bhullar knows his task is cut out for getting a chance to play in Tokyo.
“Well, Ajeetesh was giving a tough fight throughout the four rounds. We have played a lot of golf together on the junior tour and it is really good to see players like him winning. I was following Anirban too who posted his best finish on the PGA Tour in the CJ Cup in South Korea today. Whenever we meet, we do talk about the PGA Tour. I will be playing on the Asian Tour for the rest of this season and plan to play in the web.com tour Q-School next year, apart from concentrating on Europe also. Yes, playing at the Olympics is at the back of my mind but I do understand that I need to win more such tournaments and break into the top-50,” said Bhullar.