Gaganjeet Bhullar is now the most successful Indian golfer on the Asian Tour. By winning the co-sanctioned Fiji International on Sunday, the 30-year-old broke the tie with Jyoti Randhawa, Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal, who have eight titles on the continental circuit. In a chat with The Indian Express, Bhullar recounted the challenges in Fiji and spoked about his plans for the European Tour. Excerpts:
Today’s win makes you the most successful Indian golfer on the Asian Tour. What do you think about that?
When I first won on the Asian Tour in 2009, I was young and used to dream about what players like Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal achieved on the Asian Tour. Apart from them, I would also follow Lee Westwood. And to be able to surpass their record is special. Mind you, they are still playing and can surpass me any time (laughs). As an Indian golfer, one always thinks of winning on the Asian Tour first and to win nine titles on the tour is a special feeling. I have matured in all these years and understood the game better.
One aspires to play better around the world and this win is also my first on the European Tour. All these wins have taught me to handle pressure situations and this is a phase where I am enjoying my game and, winning titles or not, it is teaching me new lessons and challenges. All my wins are special but this win was made special as my wife saw me winning a title for the first time.
In the final round, you made a chip shot for eagle on the 17th hole in windy conditions. With Anthony Quayle and Ernie Els still in the hunt for the title and Quayle shooting a course-record score of 63, how tough was it mentally?
Almost everybody on the golf course was calling my surname and cheering me, calling me ‘Bula Bula’. Maybe, that also inspired me. Talking of conditions, it was a tough course and with wind a factor on almost every day, it made our task difficult. The par save on the 10th hole was the game-changer for me before the chip in eagle on the 17th. With Quayle and Els playing excellent golf, I was under a bit of pressure, but that’s golf. To be honest, I hit the ball well and aiming for the regulations helped my cause. Driving long distances was the key here and my short game got better, but adjusting to the conditions was a challenge. I had a local caddie here and also talked with Vijay Singh earlier in the tournament. He told me to play aggressively and it was one of the things which inspired me.
This week, the world’s top 73 golfers played at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in USA. As somebody who was in the top-70 in 2012, was it a disappointment on missing such events at this time in your career? This win will help you reach a world ranking close to 100. What does it mean to you?
There are no disappointments. As one of my friends told me, golf is sincere to nobody. As a professional golfer, we all have low phases in our career and we learn from it. Look at Tiger Woods. The kind of golf he is playing now after all the low seasons is tremendous.
Whatever came after the Macau Open, I accepted it with a big heart. Yes, there were some close finishes for me, including runner-up finishes in Queens Cup and Maekyung Open, but things like those helped me build momentum. Yes, rankings matter and the top-50 or 60 get in the Majors, but these things happen automatically once you start winning, be it on the the Asian Tour, European Tour or PGA Tour. Among youngsters, Shubhankar (Sharma) has shown that and Anirban (Lahiri) has shown that while playing on the PGA Tour. Anirban has been an inspiration in a way he has grinded out and shown consistency on the PGA Tour, which is the toughest tour in the world.
This win also makes you only the sixth Indian to win on the European Tour, apart from securing a European Tour card till 2019. You have played in Europe before. How challenging is it to play in Europe and what are your plans for the rest of the season?
I last had full status on the European tour in 2014. I was a different golfer at that time and the mistakes taught me many things. I had some exemptions in 2016 and 2017 but securing a full European Tour card till the end of 2019 at this stage of my career will throw me some new challenges. I am better and more mature player now but mastering the European conditions will take time. The weather plays a huge role as do the windy conditions. The courses are longer as compared to those in Asia and the grass is also different, which requires a different mindset for the short game.
I will be playing in the Czech Masters and Made in Denmark Open later this month, apart from the PGA Tour event in Asia, the CIMB Classic. I will be shifting base in winter to my home in Sacremanto, USA. I practice at the Dark horse and North Ridge golf courses under coach Noah Montgomery and playing on the greens in North California, which are rated the toughest in the United States, helps my putting.