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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OB tee shot, bunker trouble dooms Rahm to MC

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:24 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The key to surviving Carnoustie is avoiding the bunkers.

Jon Rahm found three bunkers to close out the front nine Friday, the start of a triple bogey-double-bogey run that led to a second-round 78 and missed cut at The Open.

“All of them were as bad a lie as they could have been,” he said. “Besides that, things didn’t happen. I can’t give an explanation, really. I don’t know.”

Rahm’s troubles started on the seventh hole, a par 4 with a steady left-to-right wind. Out of bounds loomed left, and Rahm, who primarily plays a cut shot, hadn’t missed left all week. This time, his ball didn’t curve, and the OB tee shot led to a triple.

“Whenever I start missing shots to the left,” he said, “it’s really hard for me to play.”  

After a career-best fourth-place finish at the Masters, Rahm has now missed the cut in consecutive majors.

“Right now I’m not in any mental state to think about what happened, to be honest,” he said.

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Three of world's top 5 MC; not 60-year-old Langer

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 7:04 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three of the top five players in the world missed the cut at The Open.

Bernhard Langer did not.

The 60-year-old, who is in the field via his victory in last year’s Senior Open Championship, shot even-par 71 on Friday. At 2 over through 36 holes, he safely made it under the plus-3 cut line.

"You know, I've played the Masters [this year], made the cut. I'm here and made the cut. I think it is an accomplishment," he said. "There's a lot of great players in the field, and I've beaten a lot of very good players that are a lot younger than me."

Langer had three birdies and three bogeys in the second round and said afterwards that he was “fighting myself” with his swing. He’s spent the last few days on the phone with his swing coach, Willy Hoffman, trying to find some comfort.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Despite his score, and his made cut, Langer the perfectionist wasn’t satisfied with the way he went about achieving his results.

"I wasn't happy with my ball-striking. My putting was good, but I was unlucky. I had like four lip-outs, no lip-ins. That part was good. But the ball-striking, I wasn't really comfortable with my swing," he said. "Just, it's always tough trying stuff in the middle of a round."

Langer, a two-time Masters champion, has never won The Open. He does, however, have six top-3 finishes in 30 prior starts.

As for finishing higher than some of the top-ranked players in the world, the World Golf Hall of Famer is taking it in stride.

"I'm not going to look and say, 'Oh, I beat Justin Rose or beat whatever.' But it just shows it's not easy. When some of the top 10 or top 20 in the world don't make the cut, it just shows that the setup is not easy," Langer said. "So I got the better half of the draw maybe, too, right? It wasn't much fun playing in the rain, I guess, this morning for five hours. I had to practice in the rain, but I think once I teed off, we never used umbrellas. So that was a blessing."

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Kisner doubles 18, defends not laying up

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 6:42 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It was only fitting that Jean Van de Velde was there working as an on-course reporter on Friday as Kevin Kisner struggled his way up Carnoustie’s 18th fairway.

Rolling along with a two-stroke lead, Kisner’s 8-iron approach shot from an awkward lie in the rough from 160 yards squirted right and bounced into Barry Burn, the winding creek where Van de Velde’s title chances at the 1999 Open Championship began to erode.

Unlike Van de Velde, who made a triple bogey-7 and lost The Open in a playoff, Kisner’s double bogey only cost him the solo lead and he still has 36 holes to make his closing miscue a distant memory. That’s probably why the 34-year-old seemed at ease with his plight.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It just came out like a high flop shot to the right. It was weird. I don't know if it caught something or what happened,” said Kisner, who was tied with Zach Johnson and Zander Lombard at 6 under par. “You never know out of that grass. It was in a different grass than usual. It was wet, green grass instead of the brown grass. So I hadn't really played from that too much.”

Like most in this week’s field Kisner also understands that rounds on what is widely considered the most difficult major championship venue can quickly unravel even with the most innocent of mistakes.

“To play 35 holes without a double I thought was pretty good,” he said. “I've kept the ball in play, done everything I wanted to do all the way up into that hole. Just one of those things that came out completely different than we expected. I'll live with that more than chipping out and laying up from 20 feet.”

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Wind, not rain more a weekend factor at Open

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:39 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – After a half-day of rain in Round 2 of the 147th Open Championship, the weekend offers a much drier forecast.

Saturday at Carnoustie is projected to be mostly cloudy with a high of 62 degrees and only a 20 percent chance of rain.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Sunday calls for much warmer conditions, with temperatures rising upwards of 73 degrees under mostly cloudy skies.

Wind might be the only element the players have to factor in over the final 36 holes. While the winds will be relatively calm on Saturday, expected around 10-15 mph, they could increase to 25 mph in the final round.