India’s Aditi Ashok on the cusp of historic win in LPGA Tour

Aditi Ashok has the chance of creating history for Indian golf as she moved to within 18 holes of becoming the first-ever winner on the LPGA Tour.

At the $2.3 million Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, being played at the Midland Country Club, in Midland, Michigan, the 23-year-old from Bengaluru and her 22-year-old partner from Thailand, Pajaree Anannurukarn, were joint leaders at 15-under par following a three-under par third-round on Friday.

Quite incredibly, the Indo-Thai pair is bogey-free for the tournament in the three rounds. Given that two of these three rounds were played in alternate shots format, which is considered one of the toughest scoring formats in the sport, that achievement becomes even more significant.

Ashok and Anannurukarn, who are calling their team ‘The Spice Girls’, made three birdies in Friday’s third round and played solid golf throughout to keep the bogeys away. They are now one shot ahead and share the lead with the defending champions Cydney Clanton (US) and Jasmine Suwannapura (Thailand).

Anannarukarn and Ashok made birdies on holes 3, 6 and 15, while Clanton and Suwannapura posted their third-consecutive round of 65 with the best round of the day – a bogey-free 65.

If Ashok and Anannurukarn manage to fend off a field packed with superstars, it will be the first win by an Indian at the highest level of women’s professional golf. It will also boost her confidence ahead of the Olympics, for which she qualified for the second straight time.

While India has had one winner on the men’s PGA Tour (Arjun Atwal at 2010 Wyndham Championship), Ashok is only the second woman to qualify for the LPGA after Simi Mehra in the late 1990s.

Ashok is playing her fifth season on the LPGA Tour and her career-best finish is a tie for sixth at the 2018 Volunteers of America Classic. However, she has won three times on the Ladies European Tour, including a path-breaking win at the 2016 Hero Women’s Indian Open.

“I think it would be amazing, especially because we’ve always had men doing well on international tours but not as many women,” said Ashok when asked what the win would mean back home.

“I think it would be amazing for golf in India. But for me, I’ve been trying really hard the last few years and I have learned a lot. So, hopefully, I can put it all together tomorrow.”

Explaining their remarkable performance in the alternate shots (also called foursomes), which Ashok reckons she has played only twice in her entire career, she added: “I think when I’m playing by myself, obviously, I’m trying my best. But I think having a partner who’s going to hit your next shot, adds pressure.

“But it also makes you a lot sharper because I know I want her to have the easiest shot possible or the easiest putt left. That’s what motivates me to hit it close or hit it in a good spot.”

The tournament is a 72-hole, stroke-play team event with teams comprised of two players. The first and third rounds are played in foursomes (alternate shot) and the second and final rounds are in fourball (best-ball) format.

It could be a red-letter day for Indian women’s golf as Diksha Dagar was in second place in the Gant Ladies Open in Finland, heading into the final round on Saturday one shot behind the leader at 1-under par.

Also in the reckoning is Tvesa Malik, who was tied sixth at 1-over par, just three shots adrift of the leader.