There is a very important shot in the arsenal of every good professional golfer. It’s what they like to call their ‘go-to shot’ — one which is so reliable that if their swing ever gets out of sync midway through a round, they know they can pull that one shot without fail.
For Aditi Ashok, it is the draw (when the ball starts right of the target and curves ever so slightly towards the left) with her driver. On Saturday, as she set off for a historic final round of the Olympic golf in silver medal position, three shots behind the leader and eventual gold-medallist Nelly Korda, and two ahead of the chasing pack, that go-to shot of hers mysteriously went missing.
Given her lack of length off the tee, Aditi needs her driver to behave. Her immaculate short game — the ability to chip and putt on and around the greens — helped her post great scores on the first three days. However, on the day it mattered the most, the missing draw heaped the pressure on every other aspect of her game.
And yet, she showed immense mental strength and kept grinding to shoot a three-under par 68. It proved valiant in the end, as she fell one shot outside the medals at a remarkable four-day tally of 15-under 269.
A fourth place in the Olympics may seem like a failure, but especially in Aditi’s case, it wasn’t. No one thought she had a chance to begin with. Ranked 200th in the world, she was up against a world-class field that included the world No1 Nelly and 14 of the top-15 ranked players in the world. She may not have earned a medal, but she won the respect of her peers with her doggedness, and the admiration of a nation that isn’t very conversant with the nuances of golf.
Two stats stood out in Aditi’s effort at Kasugimaseki Country Club — the fact that she averaged 208.1 yards off the tee and was 59th out of 60 players in Driving Distance. And then there was another number — +13.019 Shots Gained Putting. That’s an indication of how better you putted compared to the field. The 23-year-old Bengaluru girl was a whopping 5.45 shots better than the second-best Hannah Green (+7.56) of Australia.
The Shots Gained Putting numbers are just off the charts for Aditi, and main factor for her success. At one point in the final round, Anirban Lahiri, who represented India the week before in the men’s competition, could not help but tweet that she had taken only 16 putts in the first 13 holes!
Aditi would probably be slightly longer than 208 yards with her driver, but reckons she lost about 15-20 yards because her body is yet to recover from a bout of COVID-19 in May this year.
The other factor that helped the 2020 Arjuna Award winner was the way she managed the golf course. She was using hybrids to hit her second shots on a majority of holes, but whenever she needed to lay up, she managed to give herself the perfect yardages.
It also helped that she had her mother, Maheshwari, on her bag. Given the intense heat and humidity — which saw three caddies being rushed for medical aid from the golf course — it was a brilliant effort by her, not just keeping her daughter properly hydrated, but also maintaining her composure throughout the four rounds of such a massive competition.
By the time Paris comes along in three years, Aditi will only be 26 and definitely be stronger, physically and mentally, after another three years on LPGA. An Olympic medal will continue fuelling her dreams until then.