Atwal success fuels India's major ambitions

NEW DELHI Mon Aug 23, 2010 2:24pm IST

Arjun Atwal of India drives off the second tee during the third round of the Sony Open golf tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 17, 2009. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry/Files

Arjun Atwal of India drives off the second tee during the third round of the Sony Open golf tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 17, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Hugh Gentry/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Arjun Atwal's PGA Tour triumph shone as a beacon on an otherwise dark Sunday for Indian sports, fuelling the world's second most populous country's hopes of celebrating a maiden major victory in the not too distant future.

The Florida-based 37-year-old is often world number one Tiger Woods' practice partner and keeping such company helped him become the first Indian to win a PGA Tour title with his one-stroke victory at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday

Atwal's achievement came on a day when monsoon rains impeded Delhi's Commonwealth Games preparations and the cricket-crazy nation slumped into depression after the one-day side were hammered by hosts Sri Lanka in the tri-series at Dambulla.

Celebrating the triumph almost as much as the player himself, Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) director Padamjit Singh Sandhu believes a major win for an Indian was now a distinct possibility.

"I mean, why not?" he told Reuters on Monday.

"It is clearly a defining moment for professional golf in India. This win will act as a strong catalyst to the growth of the sport in the region.

"This win confirms Arjun's class as a complete professional and had established the growing strength of Indian golf on the world stage."

Asked how long it might take, Sandhu added: "I would not like to take a guess but the progress we have seen in professional golf in India gives us confidence that we are on the right path.

"We are now more confident of strong Indian finishes in global events over the coming years."

PROMISING TRIO

Sandhu said while veterans Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh had the best chances of breaking India's major duck, the promising trio of Shiv Kapur, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri were also well positioned to make that breakthrough.

Two-time Asian Tour winner Bhullar said Atwal had set the bar higher for his compatriots.

"Every player on the planet dreams of winning on PGA Tour and he has done it leading from round one, which is amazing,' he said.

"I saw it live on television last night and had an amazing feeling. I expect the victory to change the face of Indian golf. It would inspire the young golfers like me and Anirban to work harder.

"At the top level, your mindset matter more than your swing or technique and Arjun showed we can win at the highest stage.

"Maybe India's time has come and we are close to winning a major in the near future."

Sharing his optimism, experienced Indian golf journalist V Krishnaswamy, who saw Atwal win his first Asian Tour title in 1999, said it was only a matter of time before an Indian secured a major victory.

"Now that the Indian golfers have won on every tour, winning a major is very much in the realm of possibility," said Krishnaswamy, who has been following the progress of the Indian golfers for the past two decades.

"Jeev had a top 10 finish in the 2008 PGA Championship and here you have Atwal winning on PGA Tour. The Indian golfers just need to be part of the field in majors and it can happen any week."

(For more news visit Reuters India)

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