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Written by: Betsy Babu
Arjun Atwal, one of India’s most legendary golfers, returns to the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship this week. The 47-year-old, still the only Indian to have won on the world’s most prestigious golf tour, has vivid memories of the day when he also earned the distinction of becoming the first Monday qualifier to win on the PGA Tour in 24 years. Atwal was the first Indian to reach the million-dollarmark in prize money on Asian Tour (2003) and the first to earn a PGA Tour card in 2004. It was one of the many firsts Atwal achieved in his life- the first Indian to win on the European Tour (2002), the first Indian to win on the Korn Ferry Tour (then called Nationwide in 2008) and then the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour (2010).
Even with his easy-going and laidback demeanour he is still as ambitious as he was at 22 when he joined the play-for-pay ranks. His 50th birthday is still three years away but Atwal is getting ready for a new challenge- the Champions Tour for over 50s. “I want to be the first to win on the Champions Tour, too,” he says with a throaty laugh. “I still have the desire to win as long my body can still perform. If those things are there, then I will play. As of right now, I am feeling great.”
Over the years he has also been hit by back and other troubles, but claims to be at his fittest right now. “Right now I am at my fittest. Back to the weight I was at (185 pounds) when I first came to the PGA Tour in 2005. I lost 15 pounds,” he proudly announces. “This year, I made a commitment to get fitter. I wanted to see how fit I could be and also to get rid of the aches and pains, the legs feel stronger and I’ve added swing speed. I am hitting the ball longer than in the last five to six years.” With his wife Sona’s help, he now consumes only healthy food, stopped the casual alcohol intake, works out at the gym four times a week and diligently practices yoga to ensure he remains supple and agile.
On his kids and future, he says, “I enjoy the successes of my sons (Krishen and Shiva). They play basketball, though the younger one (Shiva) also likes golf. It’s their choice. All I do is to try and tell them about work ethic in sport. I wanted them to see me work hard even now (at this age) and do the same by example.”
This week at Wyndham Atwal will once again have Anirban Lahiri for company. “Anirban is finally here after a long time. Stuck in India during COVID-19 lockdown, he was finally able to come and play at Wyndham. It is so cool to have another fellow Indian in the field,” he said.
“It’s been a long, long time,” said Lahiri. “I am hungry and all ready to go. I came to India for the Indian Open and then had to stay back as the Covid outbreak started spreading all over.”
“There’s definitely pride in what I’ve done in my career. Playing on the Asian Tour taught me a lot and it’s a matter of pride to be first Indian to win on the PGA TOUR, Korn Ferry Tour, European Tour … that’s not bad. I’ve always dreamt about playing here and this is the dream. Hopefully I can become the first Indian to win on Champions as well. There may be generations doing much more after me but they can’t take away being the first. It’s pretty cool coming from a country of 1.3 billion people.”
The sporting fire that lit so brightly when Arjun Atwal turned professional some 25 years ago is showing no signs of flickering as the Indian legend prepares to write a new chapter in his illustrious golf life. Atwal adds, “I will give it a good shot. Try to turn the clock back. That will be nice and contend on Sunday.”