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Joy of Golf: Experience of Indian players at Rio 2016 proves golf will benefit from being part of Olympics

The debate continues whether golf should remain part of the Olympics but Joy Chakravarty's convinced it's a great move and one which will help grow the game.

Joy Chakravarty 2016/08/24

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson cannot stop raving about the event – obviously, they have biased opinion – but the debate continues whether golf should remain a part of Olympics.

As someone who has been involved with Asian and Indian golf for nearly two decades now, I am convinced it is a great move, something that is definitely going to grow the game.

The three Indians who were part of Rio 2016 – Anirban Lahiri, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia and Aditi Ashok – will have several anecdotes to relate on how their lives have been affected. And all of these show how much Olympic golf means to a country that has one-sixth of the world population.

Take the case of Lahiri. The world No75 hurt his shoulder while playing the Open Championship in July, and was nowhere near his best when he missed the cut at the PGA Championship.

The doctors clearly told him he needed to stay away from golf and rehabilitate for three weeks. But that would have meant missing the Olympics. And if he did play Rio, he’d miss the lucrative FedEx Cup Playoffs on the PGA Tour.

Of course, he was outside the top-100 after the PGA Championship and since he wasn’t planning to play any of the regular season events because of the Olympics, there was also the chance he’d fall beyond 125 after the Wyndham Championship and lose his PGA Tour card.

But as the 29-year-old himself puts it, going to Rio was “a no-brainer”. India is hardly the most sports-oriented nation in the world, but a billion people do wake up and take notice of non-cricket events every four years. And Lahiri wanted to make sure golf got a proper introduction for his people back home.

He played, and is now paying the price by having to forego his spot in this week’s The Barclays. At least he is lucky to have retained his card for 2016-17 – finishing the season No117 on the FedEx Cup.

If Lahiri showed how much Olympic means to the players, Aditi and Chawrasia experienced what Olympics can do for the sport.

Chawrasia’s is an amazing rags-to-riches story, not just in golf, but in entire contemporary Indian sport. The son of a greenkeeping staff at Royal Calcutta Golf Club, he is now a three-time European Tour champion.

And yet, all his previous accomplishments could not get him any grant from the government, or recognition from the non-golfing community.

Thanks to Rio, he got both. Not only did he receive a small but tidy sum in order to prepare for the tournament, he was also publically felicitated in his hometown Kolkata after returning from the Games.

The 18-year-old Aditi was a revelation. The world No462 actually led the tournament halfway through the second round, despite the field featuring the cream of ladies professional golf.

She did not have the best of finish and slipped to tied 41st in the end, but her performance generated massive interest back home.

Just to give an example, she had a few hundred followers on Twitter before Olympics. A week later, the number is 11,000 and growing, and her account has also received the coveted blue tick. On Thursday, the second day of the women’s competition, she was the third most trending topic in India.

More importantly, according to the Indian Golf Union, a few young girls have already approached various golf clubs, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Aditi.

THE FURYK CONUNDRUM

Veteran Jim Furyk, who did not start his season until May this year because of a wrist injury, is making a strong case as one of the wildcard picks for the American Ryder Cup team.

A round of 58 always helps, which was shot by the 46-year-old in the final round of the Travelers Championship, and he then backed it up with a tied 10th place at Wyndham Championship last week, where he opened with rounds of 66 and 64.

The fact remains that Furyk has won just once since the 2012 Tour Championship (the 2015 RBC Heritage), and does not have the best Ryder Cup record. He is 10-20-4, which translates to a dismal winning percentage of 35.

Furyk is currently 15th in the Ryder Cup qualification standing, He is obviously playing well at the moment and he does have the respect of the players and captain Davis Love III.

This week’s Barclays is going to be crucial. I have a feeling that if he finishes inside the top-five, Furyk will get the nod.

SI WHO IS ON TOP

It was inevitable that the hugely talented Si Woo Kim was going to break through sooner rather than later on the PGA Tour. He did so in wonderful fashion by winning the Wyndham Championship after shooting a round of 60 in the tournament.

The new world No62 has a second place finish this year and three top-10s, but the best trivia about him – he qualified for the PGA Tour in 2012 at age 17 years, 5 months, 6 days, and wasn’t allowed to play on the PGA Tour until he turned 18, thus losing his card in 2013.\

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Aditi Ashok Anirban Kahiri European Tour gold medal Golf Justin Rose olympics PGA Tour Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia