Aditi’s Lone Walk on the Green

The 18-year-old golfer could be a trail­blazer for fe­male pro­fes­sion­als in In­dia

The Economic Times - - Sports & Companies - Lisa D Mickey

ADITI ASHOK

Aditi Ashok is only 18 years old, but like any as­pir­ing pro golfer, she knows the story of Ok Hee Ku and Se Ri Pak, who in the 1980s and ‘90s changed women’s golf by start­ing the South Korean wave. Ashok may be that trail­blazer for In­dia. She was among the early lead­ers in the women’s tour­na­ment at the 2016 Rio Olympics and par­layed that ex­pe­ri­ence into two vic­to­ries in the fall on the Ladies Euro­pean Tour, where she earned top rookie hon­ours for 2016 and fin­ished sec­ond in earn­ings with seven top-10 fin­ishes.

Golf is an emerg­ing sport. But that may change soon. Anir­ban Lahiri is the only In­dian with full sta­tus on the PGA Tour. Cur­rently ranked 86th in the world, Lahiri has been ranked as high as 33rd. Ar­jun At­wal, cur­rently ranked 969th, re­mains the only In­dian win­ner on the PGA Tour. But no In­dian woman has ever won an LPGA Tour event. Ashok, at No 100, is the high­est-ranked In­dian woman since Simi Mehra, who played on the tour for sev­eral years be­gin­ning in 1997 and at­tained a ca­reer-high rank­ing of No 17 in 1998. Only six In­dian women are world ranked, com­pared with 148 In­dian men.

“Golf is def­i­nitely grow­ing in In­dia, but for the num­ber of peo­ple we have, we still don’t have enough play­ers, es­pe­cially women play­ers,” said Ashok. She found her­self in the spot­light when she re­turned home as an Olympian last sum­mer. Weeks later, she won the Ladies Euro­pean Tour event in In­dia and added a sec­ond win the next week in Qatar.

“There was clearly a huge sense of pride from the lo­cal crowd when Aditi won the Hero Women’s In­dian Open,” said Bethan Cut­ler, who han­dles com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Ladies Euro­pean Tour. Cut­ler called Ashok’s win a “game changer for fe­male golfers” in In­dia.

When asked what she thought it would take for her coun­try to em­brace golf, Ashok was prag­matic. “It’s not just about golf, and it takes more than tal­ent,” she said. “It’s the cul­ture. It’s about sports in gen­eral, and once the mind-set changes and girls start pick­ing up sports, there will be more play­ers in golf.”

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