New Delhi, 31-08-2020
Gaurav Ghei walks down memory lane, relives career milestones
Gaurav Ghei was among the first few Indian professional golfers who made a name for themselves on the international stage. Ghei’s name is etched among the pantheon of Indian golfing greats as some of the landmark achievements of his career also happened to be defining moments for Indian golf.
The 51-year-old Gaurav, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour, took a walk down memory lane and relived his career milestones when he spoke to PGTI recently.
Ghei who was India’s No. 1 amateur golfer just a year before he turned professional in 1992, said, “I was never really serious about the game even though I loved the game and always played well as an amateur. I was a finalist at the All India Amateur twice.
“I only started thinking about pursuing golf seriously when I passed out of college and had a choice to join either a residential MBA program which I got into or play professional golf,” added the articulate golfer, who also represented India at various international events as an amateur including the 1990 Beijing Asian Games.
“I was ready to enroll at IMI which was a residential management institute, before I got a brainwave that I wanted to play professional golf. Then Mr. KK Bajoria, who I’ve known for a very long time from the Delhi Golf Club (DGC), knew the founder of that institute and he convinced him to hold my admission for a year.
“I then turned pro in December 1991 and gave myself a year to see if I could play well and make a living out of it. I had a good finish, 10th or 11th, at my debut event in Mhow in January 1992. Thereafter, I played about seven to eight events from till April 1992 and had a top-5 in every event. The last event of the season was the ADDI Cup which I went on to win.
“Then I played three tournaments on the Malaysian Tour. I won the first of those three events, the Desaru Classic in Johor and had impressive finishes in the other two events as well. From then on there was no looking back for me. I thought if I could compete outside India then I have the game to play as a pro,” said Gaurav, who studied at Modern School Barakhamba Road, one of the capital’s most well-known schools.
Ghei’s triumph at the Gadgil Western Masters 1995 was a watershed moment for Indian golf as it was the first time an Indian won on the Asian Tour. The Delhi-based golfer achieved the feat with a sensational chip-in for eagle from 35 yards on the final hole in front of a rapturous home crowd at the DGC and thus edged out compatriot Vijay Kumar.
Ghei recalled the momentous occasion, saying, “Winning the Gadgil Western Masters was the most emotional moment for me in my career. I had been playing well all season and two weeks prior to Gadgil, I had been tied for the lead at the Dubai Creek Open on the last tee and hit my tee shot into the water to make double-bogey and finish fifth.
“After that to come to my home course DGC and win in that fashion in the presence of my family and friends was very special. The victory also had great significance for me for many other reasons. The tournament was one of the most well-attended as lot of people walked the course. Gadgil offered the biggest ever prize money in India till that point. I also knew that it was going to be my last tournament of the year because I was going in for a hernia surgery immediately after that would put me out of action for two to three months.”
In 1996, Gaurav made international headlines when he defeated Colin Montgomerie, World No. 2 at the time, in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at the iconic St. Andrews golf course as India stunned the home team Scotland 2-1 in a best-of-three contest. The other two members of the Indian team were Jeev Milkha Singh and Ali Sher.
Ghei evoked memories of the event, saying, “It was an extremely windy day when we beat the defending champions Scotland. I defeated Monty (Montgomerie) 77 – 78 and then I remember Monty went to the press room and said that he just had a bad day but was still confident that his team was going to win. That’s when the journalists present in the press room pointed out that in fact India had won the encounter as Jeev Milkha Singh had won his playoff against Andrew Coltart after both were tied in regulation play.
“Even though we beat the home team we got so much love and respect and that made the occasion memorable. I remember when we entered the dining room that evening the likes of Nick Price got up and started clapping for us.”
The following year Ghei scripted history at the ‘home of golf’ Scotland once again as he became the first Indian to play at a Major after he qualified for the British Open 1997 that was held at Royal Troon.
“The Open has been my favourite event. As a kid, I always dreamt of playing at The Open. I played the qualifying on a Monday and finished second in the qualifier. By the time I got to know I had qualified it was around 7 pm. Next morning I was at Troon for the practice round. It was awesome just to be there and to soak in the occasion. Sharing a locker room with Phil Mickelson and seeing Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson across because they had the Champions locker room is something that will stay with me for life.
“I just love Scotland as a golfing destination for the sheer beauty of the courses and the golfing history associated with it. I grew up watching The Open on tape and loved the way the courses were. After playing in Scotland, I realized that one is required to play a totally different brand of golf at the links courses there. I’ve been a feel oriented player and good around the greens, so when the weather was bad in Scotland, guys like me had an advantage,” said Gaurav, who lists the 3-Wood and Lob Wedge as the two clubs he’s most confident of hitting.
Ghei, who credits the acclaimed coach Claude Harmon for helping improve his ball-striking, had an outstanding season on the Indian domestic circuit in 1996-97 as he won five events and went on to clinch the Order of Merit title. To add to that he won the Asian Tour’s Johnnie Walker Asian Player of the Year Award in 1997.
Gaurav enjoyed more success on the Asian Tour a few years later with victories at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters 2006 and Pine Valley Beijing Open 2007.
Ghei said, “The win at the Pine Valley Beijing Open is the most cherished moment of my career. Eleven years after winning Gadgil, I won the Mercuries Taiwan Masters and then came the win at Beijing a year later. I somewhere wanted to prove to myself that winning in Taiwan in 2006 wasn’t a fluke. That’s the reason the victory in Beijing was all the more sweet.
“I had previously performed very well on Bermuda Grass greens, playing in Asia and living in India. However, I never used to do that well on Bent Grass greens which are generally found in colder climates. But finally winning on Bent Grass greens in Beijing and that too on a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course was highly satisfying.
“The fact that Jack Nicklaus was actually present during the tournament week in Beijing was also something very special for me. I got to meet him on the driving range. I’ve always admired Nicklaus for having the best record at the Majors and also for the way he’s handled his family life, business and golfing career. I can’t think of any other sportsperson who’s handled these three aspects of life better.”
Gaurav, who represented India at the World Cup of Golf on three occasions (1997, 2003, 2007) and also bagged 17 titles on the Indian domestic circuit, is pleased to see the progress Indian professional golf has made in recent times.
He said, “Professional golf in India has made huge strides in recent years which can be attributed to having a strong domestic tour in the form of the PGTI. The PGTI has over the last decade and a half provided an ideal platform for our Indian professionals to hone their skills before moving on to higher tours. It is a highly competitive tour and on many occasions there is not much difference between the depth of the fields on the Asian Tour and the PGTI.”
Ghei secured a win at an Asian Seniors Tour event held in Bangkok, Thailand in October last year. He had also made it to the Final Stage of Qualifying of the European Senior Tour over the last two years.
Ever since the Delhi Golf Club reopened after the lockdown in May this year, the seasoned golfer has been back on the golf course with his sights now firmly set on qualifying for next year’s Senior British Open.
Ghei signs off with advice for youngsters who want to become professional golfers, “You need to play it like a sport and enjoy it. That’s how you will get longevity and not burn out. If you have fun playing it then you don’t mind putting in the hard work and hitting balls all day. I would also add that dealing with adversity in my personal life during the peak of my playing career taught me that life is a lot more than just playing golf so you should be grateful for just being able to play the sport you love.”
Formed in 2006, Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) is the recognised official body of professional golf in India. PGTI's objective is to promote professional golf in the country, as well as to give players an opportunity to be involved in the decision making on all aspects of the game. Headed by Mr. Gautam Thapar (President), PGTI's governing body comprises leading Indian golf professionals. PGTI currently has over 300 members.
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