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Updated: October 21, 2012 16:19 IST

Hitting the road

ASHWIN ACHAL
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Meditating to focus Gaganjeet Bhullar Photo: Bhagya Prakash k.
Meditating to focus Gaganjeet Bhullar Photo: Bhagya Prakash k.

Golfing star Gaganjeet Bhullar loves travelling. He tells ASHWIN ACHAL he is on his ninth passport now, and that if he can touch 50 passports, he’ll be really happy

The most talked about golfer on the Indian circuit now remains unfazed by all the attention showered on him. Gaganjeet Bhullar has arrived in Bangalore for the Indian Open after clinching the Macau Open last week, but dismisses terms like ‘rising star’ and ‘next big thing’, preferring to keep it real.

“We play so many tournaments every year, and there is a lot of media attention like this every week. These days, there are easily 15 or 20 guys who are good and can win any tournament. It isn’t just two or three contenders anymore. Before, people would interview only Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson on the PGA tour, but now anyone can win.”

This pragmatic approach, however, leaves the man with no desire to take a little time off to sit back and reflect on past successes. Only a sportsman can rationally justify a path of self-denial without sounding like a saint, and Bhullar does so with a bit of humour for good measure. “This is not the time to hold on to victories and cherish them. I’m 24, and I need to continue like this as long as I’m single (laughs).”

For now, Bhullar is relishing the opportunity to pursue two passions – playing professional golf after starting off as an amateur, and travelling. A pro golfer’s life can seem like an endless chartered world tour, but Bhullar is hardly complaining. “I’m on my ninth passport right now, and if I can touch 50 passports, I’ll be really happy. My passport is renewed every nine months; I just love travelling and playing golf in different places. I’ve only played once at Cape Town, South Africa and I loved it. The Swiss Open is great too.”

Unlike a team sport where a foreign tour provides a chance to go wild as part of a motley crew, touring to play golf tournaments resembles the life of wealthy backpacker. “Golf isn’t like cricket, it is very individual. Anirban Lahiri (another pro golfer from India) may find his way on the European Tour, and Jeev Milkha Singh (India’s top-ranked golfer) may play on the PGA tour, while I play in Asia. Anirban and I used to share a room when we were amateurs, but now we have our separate complimentary rooms and travel with our business class flight tickets. I guess it spoils you, but we’ve worked hard for all this.”

Anirban, meanwhile, had commented earlier that he practices meditation to improve his ability to focus on the course. Will Bhullar dismiss it as a new-age fad with no relevance to the sport? “I do meditate, and trust me, it helps a lot. Anirban was the one who suggested this to me, saying it will take my game to the next level. In the off-season, I may take on more meditation training. I know that top players like Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood practice yoga.”

Isn’t meditation and yoga for the old folk? It is hard to imagine a fit 24-year-old requiring relaxation techniques and ‘asanas’ to manage stress. “Oh, meditation is necessary for youngsters too, and it comes easy if you’re a golfer. Golfers mature early, because there are a lot of emotions involved. There is no one to blame for failure, only you are on the field and you have to cope with everything that happens.”

The Kapurthala-resident then slips briefly into a ‘sit back and reflect’ mood when asked about his days as a junior playing alongside Rory McIlroy, the world number one and most recognizable face in the sport since Tiger Woods. “Rory and I played two or three times together in junior tournaments, and we met last year in Switzerland after about six years. He remembered my name, and it was lovely to meet him. I said ‘Rory, well done at the US Open’ and he said ‘Well done to you too, you did well in Czech Republic’, so he obviously follows a lot of golf.”

The Punjabi quickly emerges from his reminiscent mood, however, to put Rory’s success in perspective. “At that level, we played together. He is now the world number one and I’m ranked 120. So yeah, he is an inspiration.”

Bhullar may be ranked well below his now illustrious former playing partner, but he does represent a new set of many Indians who have reaped rewards in a sport which earlier had only a handful of success stories. “I guess the responsibility to take Indian golf forward is on our shoulders. We are the future of Indian golf and we have to prove to people that the next generation is ready to take over.”

Come tee-off, the next generation will be tested by a multitude of international stars here at the KGA course. He comes into the tournament armed with fine form, but rejects the tag of favourite to kill the hype one more time.

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