Twenty-year-old Viraj Madappa newest star on Indian golfing horizon

TAKE Solutions Masters 2018 champion Viraj Madappa with the trophy 1Twenty-year-old Viraj Madappa, playing his rookie season on the Asian Tour, became the newest star to emerge on the Indian golfing horizon as he scripted a historic win at the US$ 350,000 TAKE Solutions Masters 2018, an event co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGTI, at the Karnataka Golf Association (KGA) course on Sunday.

Madappa (70-65-66-67), who was tied fourth and two off the lead after round three, came up with a determined four-under-67 in the final round to prevail by two shots as his tournament tally added up to 16-under-268.

In the process, the six foot two inch tall Kolkata lad with an athletic built, became the youngest Indian to win an international event. The previous record was held by Gaganjeet Bhullar who had won the Asian Tour’s 2009 Indonesia President Invitational at the age of 21 years and three months.

Viraj, who scored five birdies at the expense of a lone bogey on Sunday, also emerged as only the third Indian rookie to win on the Asian Tour after Shiv Kapur (2005) and Rashid Khan (2014).

The quartet comprising of Thai duo Danthai Boonma (70) and Suradit Yongcharoenchai (66), Zimbabwean Scott Vincent (68) and overnight leader Miguel Carballo (71) of Argentina, took tied second place at 14-under-270.

While India’s Khalin Joshi (72) slipped from overnight tied second to tied sixth at 12-under-272, two other Indians Honey Baisoya (70) and SSP Chawrasia (70) held on to their overnight tied sixth place.

Madappa’s family hails from the Coorg region of Karnataka but he grew up in Kolkata and learnt his golf at the Tollygunge Club. However, the understated youngster, one of India’s top ranked amateurs in 2015 and 2016, has spent most of his time in Bengaluru over the last one year to be with coach Tarun Sardesai.

Viraj was a plump kid and was thus introduced to swimming by his parents at a very young age. However, he soon took a liking for golf after watching the members play at the Tollygunge Club and began pursuing the sport under the tutelage of renowned coach Indrajit Bhalotia by the time he was eight years old.

The rest was history as 20 titles at the junior level and six titles at the amateur level followed.

Madappa turned professional in 2017 and became the PGTI Emerging Player of the Year during the season with a creditable ninth place finish on the PGTI Order of Merit.

This is Viraj’s first win as a professional and is also the third international win for India in two weeks following Gaganjeet Bhullar’s triumph at the Fiji International last week and Rahil Gangjee’s win at the Louis Philippe Cup which also came last week.

Madappa was slow off the blocks in round four as he made pars on the first six holes followed by a bogey on the seventh to be one-over for the day. However, the back-nine came to his rescue for the fourth straight day as he rallied with five birdies over the next nine holes to come through in style.

Viraj, who only two weeks back posted his previous best of tied 14th on the Asian Tour during the Royal Cup, got the momentum going with his birdie on the 15th in round four.

As Madappa added another birdie on 16th, leader Scott Vincent playing in the same second last group, bogeyed the same hole for a two-shot swing. From one behind, the Indian was now one ahead at the top. Vincent dropped another bogey on 17th. So Madappa had a two-shot lead when he arrived at the 18th tee and he played safely for a par on the Par-5 closing hole. Vincent needing an eagle on the 18th managed only a par.

This week Madappa’s scoring on the back nine was his strength. He was 15-under for the back nine and was just 1-under for the front half of the course.

Madappa, the first in his family to play golf, said, “Last night I thought about a win, the winning putt and so much else, so I was kind of nervous. Then, to get my first pro win on the Asian Tour is a dream come true. It is yet to sink in.

“It’s incredible really. My family has been very supportive. My mum is here with me today. I want to thank all the kids who came out to support me today as well as my parents and my coach Tarun Sardesai, with whom I have been working for some time now.

“Winning the tournament did cross my mind when I birdied the 16th hole but I was just trying to stay in the present and hit every shot I could the right way. I think I did a good job there. I didn’t back off from the situation, even though I had the opportunity to lay up on 18th hole. I decided to go for the green and I’m proud that I made that decision.”

As for what he does next, he said, “I am going back home to Kolkata to celebrate with my family tonight and spend some time at home. I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard on the 18th. I only looked at it before I chipped. I was aggressive with that chip. I knew I had a two-shot lead then but I felt relieved after chipping it back to the green.”

The bespectacled Viraj, who admires golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Anirban Lahiri, now has a full exemption on the Asian Tour till the end of 2019.

Chawrasia, who briefly captured the lead on Sunday, said, “Too many of my birdie putts lipped out and I could never get the momentum going.”

Joshi, who had a troublesome front nine, with two bogeys and a double bogey, admitted, “Nothing worked for me today. I was 4-over after 10 and I tried hard, but it was not to be.”

Chikkarangappa (72), like Joshi, dropped four shots early and was then trying to play catch up with three birdies on the back nine. He finished ninth at 11-under-273.

Defending champion, Thailand’s Poom Saksansin (66) finished tied 10th at 10-under-274 alongside five others, one of whom was India’s Om Prakash Chouhan (70).