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India's Ashok embodies golf's Olympic dream

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WOBURN, England – Aditi Ashok is living an Olympic dream, but there’s a fairly large twist in her case.

Ashok’s dream isn’t shared by many little girls growing up in India.

She’s a pioneer, hoping to carve a new path to the Olympic Games for young girls in her country. She’s a professional golfer in a nation where golf isn’t a very popular sport, but she’s hoping her appearance in Rio de Janeiro will help change that. She’s exactly the kind of player golf’s leaders had in mind when they began pushing to get golf back in the Games to grow the sport globally.

“I’m excited,” Ashok said. “When I was trying to make it into the Olympics, a lot of people in India, outside of people who followed golf, didn’t know what I was doing. Once I made the Olympic team, it wasn’t just golfers who knew. Everyone knows about it now. It’s really huge, having so many people follow me now. I’m sure it will help the sport in India.”

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Ashok turned pro at 17 last year and won the Ladies European Tour’s Q-School. She playing as a rookie on that tour this season. She is from Bangalore, a city of more than eight million people. When she was first took up the game as a 5-year-old, she said there were about three courses in the area. Now, there are seven or eight.

“Cricket is our sport,” Ashok said. “We are a cricket-crazy country, but golf is growing, and I am sure golf being part of the Olympics will help.”

Ashok, who didn’t graduate from high school until April, got off to a late start on the LET this year. She didn’t qualify for this week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open based on her LET record, so she flew to England last week to play a qualifier. She didn’t just make it to Woburn; she won the qualifier with a 9-under-par 66.

“I thought playing a major would help me get ready for the Olympics,” Ashok said. “It’s a good lead up. Now the Olympics won’t feel like such an entirely new experience.”

Ashok’s father, Gudlamani, is caddying for her this week and also will caddie for her in Rio. Her mother, Mash, is also at Woburn.

Ashok’s dream goes beyond the Olympics. She wants to play the LPGA and hopes to attend Q-School later this year.

“I want to play with the best players in the world,” Ashok said. “And I want to be the world No. 1. If I work hard enough, anything is possible.”