India's Ashok, 18, could have massive impact with Olympic medal

By Rex HoggardAugust 18, 2016, 5:53 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – It was a family breakfast at the Royal Orchid, a quiet eatery wedged between Intermediate Ring Road and Karnatada Golf Association in eastern Bangalore, when then 5-year-old Aditi Ashok fell for golf.

Ashok Gudlamani, Aditi’s father, was enjoying a family meal when his daughter gazed across the lawn to the Karnatada driving range.

“We looked at the driving range where people were hitting balls and we got intrigued and went in,” Gudlamani said. “She settled into the putting green.”

Aditi hasn’t since left the green.

Less than eight months later she played her first round of golf at Bangalore Golf Club – an older layout of 6,200 yards – because, Gudlamani sheepishly admits, Karnatada is a private club and memberships are hard to come by.

“After her first round she had two rosy cheeks, she was so happy. She wanted to go right back out again,” Gudlamani said.

There was a similar smile on Thursday at the Olympic Golf Club where Aditi carded her second-consecutive 68 for a spot near the top of the leaderboard through two rounds of the women’s competition.

The novelty of an 18-year-old in contention for a medal at this week’s Games was not entirely unpredictable – world No. 1 Lydia Ko is 19, after all – but Aditi’s journey from a family meal at Royal Orchid to Rio is hard to exaggerate, even by Olympic standards.

VIDEO: Ashok on father and mother's influence

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

Gudlamani explains that his daughter immediately took to golf, taking the unique approach of learning how to play from the green to the tee with a focus on her short game.

When she was 10 years old, Aditi won a national handicap tournament in India against women who were four-times her age. She was the nation’s junior champion for three consecutive years (2012-14) and a two-time India Amateur winner.

She turned pro in January, promptly winning the Ladies European Tour’s Q-School and last month earned a trip to the Women’s British Open by winning a qualifying tournament.

All along, through Q-School and qualifying for her first major and her start at Woburn last month, she proceeded with the singular purpose of preparing for this week’s Rio Games.

Let the debate continue as to the importance of golf returning to the Games for the first time in over a century (116 years for the women); all one needs to understand the potential impact that golf’s Olympic fortnight could have on growing the game was etched into Thursday’s leaderboard.

“I think it would be big in India, and also being a golfer, a woman golfer, it will definitely boost the popularity of the sport. That's what I'm hoping to do,” said Aditi, who was tied for the lead before a closing bogey dropped her into a tie for fourth place.

A medal on Saturday for Aditi, any medal will do, would resonate back home in Bangalore and beyond. Consider that there are 206 golf courses in India, but only one that would be considered “public” by western standards.

According to the Indian Golf Union, the country of 1.25 billion has between125,000 and 150,000 golfers, but even that number is exaggerated and based on whether someone played a single round of golf in a year. A more realistic estimate is between 70,000 and 80,000 Indians play golf regularly, according to Dilip Thomas, an Indian Golf Union council member.

When golf’s organizers made their pitch to the International Olympic Committee, in 2009, to bring the game back to the Olympics, just five years after Aditi played her first round, it was always motivated by the notion that the Games resonate well beyond traditional sports fans.

That’s a potential growth pool of 1.25 billion if a player, like Aditi, was somehow able to turn the Olympic spotlight on a game that largely exists in the sporting shadows in India.

“I have a theory that Indians excel at sports of mind and touch, and golf is a game of mind and touch,” Thomas said. “We are at a stage that is about 15 to 20 years behind other countries in terms of golf. The top 10 sports in India are cricket, cricket, cricket and cricket ...”

Putting the expectations of an entire sport, if not an entire nation, on any athlete is unfair, particularly when that player is just a few months removed from her high school graduation. But as impressive as Aditi has been for two days on the golf course it might be her ability to effortlessly carry that burden that is really awe-inspiring.

With an ease that belies her age, Aditi has embraced her role as the game’s ultimate ambassador and the potential impact her play this week could have back home.

“Hopefully, she will make the sport popular and golf becomes a big sport in India,” Gudlamani said. “We are getting a lot of messages from India. If she can get to the podium that would be great.”

Not that Gudlamani and Aditi are spending much time this week plotting a bigger picture plan for golf in India. In fact, Gudlamani admits that he’s not saying much at all.

“There’s only one rule when I’m caddying: shut up,” he laughed.

Aditi’s journey in golf will continue after this week, with a flight waiting on Saturday after she finishes her final round to wing her to the first stage of LPGA Tour Q-School that begins next week in California.

But whatever the rest of her career holds, it may not ever compare to what she’s poised to accomplish in Rio.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry