By V Krishnaswamy
The Indian Open has had an illustrious list of winners and participants over its four decade long history. The name that stands out is five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson, Aussie great Graham Marsh and the legendary Payne Stewart who adorn the Honours list.
Now established as one of the premier stops on the Asian Tour, the Indian Open, which will carry a prize purse of half a million dollars in 2007 has been instrumental in taking golf in India to a new level.
Though it was Ali Sher’s sensational win in the 1991 edition, and the repeat performance two years later that made Indian fans sit up and realise that golf had become the big sport for India, it was in fact ‘P G ‘Billoo Sethi who set the ball rolling winning the title as an amateur in the second year of its inception. Sethi beat stalwarts like Peter Thomson during the course of his win.
After Ali Sher’s win, Indian golf was on a roll and it became the first major success for Indian golfers like Feroze Ali (1998), Arjun Atwal (1999) and Jyoti Randhawa (2000 and 2006). Randhawa became Asia No. 1 in 2002 and Atwal did the same a year later in 2003. While, Jeev Milkha Singh never won the Indian Open – he has always coveted the title, and finished second in it – Jeev did become Asia No. 1 in 2006.
The first edition of the Indian Open was played way back in 1964, and was won by Peter Thomson, who interestingly was the man behind the birth of this tournament.
During his numerous trips to Europe and the US, Thomson would always try to make a stopover in India, which was one of his favourite countries. He convinced many other international players to come to India and make it popular here and he also convinced the authorities in India to start the event.
That led to the birth of the Indian Open with Indian Golf Union, the then governing body of both professional and amateur golf in the country at that time, to establish the Indian Open.
Thomson also got other top professionals like Guy Wolstenholme (England), Angel Miguel (Spain), Graham Marsh (Australia) and Ben Arda (Phillippines) amongst others to participate regularly. Thomson went on to win the title three title three times in 1964, 1966 and 1976.
In 1965 one of India’s golfing legends, Prem Gopal (Billoo) Sethi beat a strong foreign challenge, including Thomson and Wolstenholme, to win the title as an amateur by a huge margin of seven strokes with an aggregate of 282 at the then par 73 Royal Calcutta Golf Course.
Considered to be one of the top five amateurs in the world in those days, Billoo Sethi remains the only amateur to have won the Indian Open. The best pro that year was Wolstenholme with a score of 289, while Thomson was third at 290.
In 1970, the Indian Open became a part of the Asian Golf Circuit and the field became stronger and stronger thereafter. The 1971 contest saw one of the most thrilling duels in the history of the Open. Two Australians – Graham Marsh and David Graham, winners of two majors on the US PGA Tour – matched each other stroke for stroke to leave the rest of the field behind. Marsh, whose brother Rodney played cricket for Australia, shot 66-66 on first two days and eventually won by one stroke with a score of 275. He won again in 1973.
In 1981, two-time winner of the US Open, the legendary late Payne Stewart won the title leading from start to finish. He had turned professional in 1979 and the win in India was one of his first victories.
In 1990s Indian professionals began their domination. They had done well but not won but Ali Sher rectified that record. He won in 1991 and again 1993.
Since then Indians won in 2000 (Randhawa), Vijay Kumar (2002) and again Randhawa (2006).
In recent years, two of Asian golf’s big names in the last decade won the Indian Open as their maiden title. First veteran American Mike Cunning in 2003 won his first title after more than a decade in Asia – though he had won the Order of Merit in the past. Then the very next year, Singaporean stalwart Mardan Mamat won the Indian Open to become the first Singaporean to win a title on Asian Tour.
Thaworn Wiratchant emulated fellow Thai Thongchai Jaidee (2001) by winning the 2005 title, before Jyoti Randhawa won it back in 2006 for his second Indian Open.
Now in 2007, the event carries a record purse of US $ 500,000. It sure has been a long and eventful journey for the National Open, which many Indians consider as their ‘fifth’ Major.