Aditi’s Lone Walk on the Green
The 18-year-old golfer could be a trailblazer for female professionals in India
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.”