Aditi Ashok's phenomenal rise: From impressive Olympic debut to first top-10 finish on LPGA tour
Aditi Ashok became a household name after her surprising performance at Rio Olympics. She has followed that up by a strong year, and has been rising from strength to strength.
I distinctly recall two separate days about a year ago.
I received messages and a few calls asking me the same question: "Who is Aditi Ashok?" I was asked this question by some social friends, and not surprisingly, by a few golfers too. This was on the day the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) announced the Indian golf contingent selected to represent the country at the Rio Olympic Games. Everyone knew Anirban Lahiri, fewer people knew SSP Chowrasia but absolutely nobody barring a segment of the golfing community had heard of Aditi.
Another few weeks go by and I receive more messages, calls and questions including folks from the media. Everyone asked the same question: "Who is Aditi Ashok?" This was during the women's golf event at the Olympics.
PV Sindhu had won the silver medal, Sakshi Malik the bronze medal and the entire nation was on Rio watch. And 18-year-old Aditi, still ranked somewhere in the mid-400's had catapulted up the leaderboard and caught the wild imagination of a 1.3 billion strong nation. 'Who is Aditi Ashok?', was one of the highest logging searches on Google.
Eventually Aditi faded away, unable to keep up with her more experienced opposition but the name and her efforts as an Olympian had registered. Her performances could play a strong role in inspiring a generation of youngsters to take up the sport. I certainly believe Aditi has the potential to create a revolution amongst the girls in India, just the way Se Ri Pak's success on the LPGA did in South Korea a couple of decades ago.
In December 2015, Aditi headed to North Africa to play in the Ladies European Tour 'Q' School. Aditi ran through the field, to post a tournament total of 23 under and in the process winning the Lalla Aicha Tour School Qualifying event, which included a 10-under par course record-equalling round at Samanah Country Club in Morocco.
Back-to-back wins at the Ladies Indian Open and Qatar Ladies Open in 2016 followed by a T3 at the Ladies European Masters in UAE won her the coveted Ladies European Tour 'Rookie of the Year' title. She also finished 2016 ranked No 2 on the LET Order of Merit. That she ranked No 2 in the 'putts per round' category at 28.91 average clearly shows her strength on the dance floor.
Through all of this, Aditi kept working on her game with unstinted efforts of her parents, supplemented by her Australian coach Steven Giuliano, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, and fitness instructor Nicolas Cabaret. Both Giuliano and Cabaret played their roles to perfection, and prepared Aditi to fly across the pond to qualify for the LPGA dream.
Relentless in her pursuit, Aditi made it to the final stage of the LPGA 'Q' school eight months ago and tied for 24th place that gave her conditional status on the tour.
Fast forward to the weekend that ended on Sunday, at the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I, and Aditi found herself tied third after three rounds of 65, 68 & 68, three shots adrift of leader Nelly Korda, and paired with world No 3 Lexi Thomson. Nelly herself is another teenage phenom and younger sister of LPGA star Jessica Korda, both daughters of tennis legend Petr Korda.
Aditi shot a final round even par 71 to end the tournament at T8, thus recording her first top-10 finish on arguably the most competitive tour in the world. For her efforts, she earned $33,745 and her year's earning on the LPGA now stands at $132,080. She has moved up No 69 in the 'Race to CME' standings and No 93 in the Rolex World Rankings.
She has played 12 events on the LPGA this year, starting with the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in February, and made all but three cuts and is currently placed at No 7 in the LPGA 'Rookie of the Year' standings in her quest to win the prestigious rookie title for back-to-back years on the two biggest tours in the world.
All guns are now trained on Scotland as she heads to the Ricoh Ladies British Open being played from 3 to 6 August at Kingbarns, an event she dearly wanted to qualify to play. Last year, the title was won by Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, who subsequently went on to become world No 1.
Scotland will present its own set of challenges — links layout, rain and wind — and strategy and ball flight control will play a significant role. This is where I expect Aditi's experience and success last year in Europe to kick in.
Aditi Ashok fast facts:
- Won the All India Women's National Championships in 2011 as a 13-year-old; she won it again in 2014.
- She won the All India Junior Girls Nationals Championship thrice between 2012 and 14. Yep, she won the big one before the junior title.
- She owns the women's amateur course record at St Andrews, shot an 8 under in May, 2015 at the British Girls Championship.
- Her dream four-ball includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Annika Sorenstam, besides herself of course.
- She is the youngest winner of Lalla Aicha Tour School Qualifying event and obviously the first Indian to do so.
Her key statistics on the LPGA this year:
Average driving distance: 238.82 yards (rank 149)
Driving accuracy: 74.78% (rank 58)
Greens in regulation: 67.07% (rank 100)
Putts per GIR: 1.76 (rank 17)
Putting average: 28.98 (rank 18)
Scoring average: 70.88 (rank 47)
Sand saves: 51.06% (rank 38)
The author is a golfer who represented India from 1988 to 1991 and captained the West Zone from 1996 to 2001
Rising star Aditi Ashok will spearhead the Indian challenge in a star-studded line-up of golfers at the Hero Women's Indian Open golf tournament.
She slipped from Tied-42nd to Tied-52nd but there was no pressure of missing the weekend in the no-cut event.