A six-member Indian team, which is also joined by another Dubai-based Indian, who are all making their debut at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, has high hopes this week at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.
The team comprises Rohan Dholepatil (25), Arjun Gupta (17), Akshay Neranjan (20), Shubham Jaglan (17), 2019 All India Amateur winner, Aryan Roopa Anand (19), and Milind Soni (16). Yet another Indian, Arkesh Bhatia has made the field on a nomination from the Emirates Golf Association. Arkesh Bhatia, who holds Indian nationality, is playing this week on a nomination from the Emirates Golf Association.
Barring Patil, 25, a latecomer to golf, the rest are still in their teens or just out of it.
The soft-spoken Dubai-based Arjun Gupta, and the self-taught Shubham Jaglan, who made a big name for himself even at the age of six and seven, are hoping to move to the next level. Though Arjun Gupta played some golf in India three years ago, he is born and brought up in Dubai, where his parents live and work.
The annual championship, which offers a spot on two of the most prestigious major championships next year – the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club and The Open at St Andrews’ Old Course – was not held in 2021 due to the pandemic. The first round will be held on Wednesday.
Though Gupta played some golf in India three years ago, he is born and brought up in Dubai, where his parents live and work. Jaglan grew up in a family of wrestlers in a village called Israna in Haryana but is now a freshman at the University of Florida.
Gupta, who reached the Round of 16 at the US Junior Amateurs, is quite experienced in a manner of speaking, as he has also played in European Tour events in Abu Dhabi and secured a fourth-place finish in Jordan on the MENA pro tour in the Middle East. He was also the winner of the Faldo Series Middle East in 2019 and runner-up at the Grand Final. Interestingly, his twin sister, Natalii will play in the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship in Abu Dhabi next week.
A huge fan of Rory McIlroy, Gupta said, “I have been preparing for this event ever since I heard I was in the list. I know about the AAC and it was cool to see the flags with pictures of the winners of previous editions. I saw the picture of Hideki Matsuyama, who won twice, and has now won the Masters, too. That is very inspiring. I want to play my best and have a shot at playing the Masters and the Open.”
Jaglan, touted as a child prodigy and one who has even been on Ted Talks, has won virtually every event he played before he turned 10. Now studying and pursuing golf in Florida, Jaglan, 17, turned to golf because his grandfather wanted him to choose a sport other than wresting. “That was despite no one having played or heard about golf in my family,” he said recently.
Self-taught and through watching golf videos on YouTube, Jaglan, later had Arjuna Awardee and well-known Nonita Lall Qureshi as his coach and mentor. He has also been through some injuries despite his young age but is now in Florida and looking forward to s fruitful career.
The 19-year-old Bengalurean Roopa Anand, who won the 2019 All India Amateur Championships, said, “It was surreal (when told that he would be in the Indian team for AAC) because this is I think one of the biggest events in amateur golf for people on the Asian side. It’s like a dream come true. It’s my dream to be in the Masters and The Open. This is an opportunity to do that. I was elated, I was very excited. I got to know about this a month and a half prior, and it’s the only thing I could look forward to.”
Talking of how he dealt with the pandemic and keeping fit during that period, the Indian amateur champion said, “It was tough. When you’re in form you want to play as many events as you want and you want to go out there and compete day-in and day-out, and obviously, we were all locked in our homes. But I think as athletes, as sportsmen, we try to make the best out of whatever situation we are in and I think that is what me, my coach, and my trainers did. So we did a lot of home workouts and chipping in the backyard. Even during the pandemic, I was at my base. I was at Zion Hills (with Tarun Sardesai) in the academy. I took it as a blessing in disguise. I worked on the things that we felt we didn’t have time to work on. You try and take the positive out of everything, and I feel that is something that we did.”
Patil, India’s highest-ranked amateur player in the field, heard only a few days ago that a win at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships would get him into both the Masters and The Open next year.
Patil, ever since he heard what was at stake, said, “I have been thinking only about that. I am in good form and I liked the Dubai Creek course and I am raring to go.”
A latecomer to golf, Patil, three times runner-up at Zonal events in India last year, said, “I began playing golf only in 2008 or so when I was 13-14. I played badminton in my school days and then picked up golf and I liked it better. Originally when I started playing golf, I thought it was an easy sport. Now I have discovered the challenges of the sport and it has become my passion.”