Rio Olympics 2016: Aditi Ashok's exploits prove India's golf future is in safe hands
Aditi Ashok is not yet the finished article. But with this performance at the Olympics, she has already shown that Indian women's golf is in good hands.
There are two ways to look at how Aditi Ashok performed at the Rio Olympics 2016. One is that the 18-year-old was well out medal contention, finishing 41st out of 60 players in the women's golf event with a score of 7-over 291, a full 23 shots behind eventual gold medal winner Inbee Park. But that would miss the forest for the trees.
The other is that Ashok, the youngest player in the field, entered the Olympics ranked 57 out of 60 golfers, which means she finished 16 places above her ranking, while also (briefly) holding the lead towards the end of her second round, when she reached 7-under par. It was a heady place to be.
She would finish the second round at 6-under, having shot 68-68 over the first two days, leaving her tied for eighth place. Suddenly women's golf was very interesting to a lot of people in India, a substantial number of whom had probably taken very little interest in the sport before.
"My Facebook page and Twitter has been going off quite a lot," Ashok told PTI. "I'm happy that a lot of people who didn't really watch golf are watching golf now. It's only going to get better from here."
Ashok shot 79-76 in the final two rounds, finding it especially tough when the wind kicked up on day three, which made the course doubly difficult. But players better than Ashok have been the tripped up by strong winds. Tiger Woods was undone by the wind in the third round of the 2002 British Open, shooting 81 to end his chances of winning that tournament.
Ashok is aware that she could have played better, but apart from Inbee Park, the other players in the field could all probably say the same thing. The final scoreboard is not the only measure of what Ashok accomplished at these Games.
For one, with women's golf making an appearance at the Olympics for the first time in over a century, it was the perfect opportunity to draw attention to a sport that receives little of it in India. It's fair to say that on this score, Ashok did her job. After PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar, here is another female Indian athlete making waves at these Games. That it didn't result in a medal is secondary.
"Obviously I didn't play as well as I hoped, especially the last two days," Ashok said. "But I'm sure there has been a lot of attention on me, so women's golf has become a bit popular. I'm hoping to see it grow in coming time," she said.
There are also the personal lessons that Ashok would have learned. Besides offering her the chance to represent her country, the Olympics was also a chance for Ashok to test her game against the best in the world with nine of the top ten ranked women in the field. She will understand better how to handle the pressure of being among the tournament leaders the next time she finds herself in it.
"I'm going to build on this, and the next time I play bigger events, I'm sure this experience is going to help me," she added.
Ashok's pedigree as a golfer is as good as any Indian's, if not better. She is a three-time National Amateur Junior Champion and a two-time National Amateur Champion, winning both events in 2014. Overall, she won 17 titles in her amateur career, including six international ones. She was the first Indian to win the St Rule Trophy (Ladies British Amateur Stroke Play) and the Singha Thailand Amateur Championship. That's not bad for a teenager.
And to top it off, she became, at 17, the youngest player to ever win the Lalla Aicha Tour School, the qualifying event for the Ladies European Tour. For good measure, she broke the tournament record with a score of 23-under par as well.
Ashok is not yet the finished article. In particular, she needs to get stronger so she can hit the ball further. That's a must on the pro tours for both men and women these days and will make it easier for her to bring her scores down.
But with this performance at the Olympics, she has already shown that Indian women's golf is in good hands. The hope is the next generation of women golfers have been watching and are now reaching for a golf club and setting out for the course.
India had a very forgettable 2016 Rio Olympics, but could fare better in four years' time if certain simple steps are taken