Greensboro, North Carolina: Arjun Atwal, one of India’s most decorated golfers, returns to the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship this week, the scene of his most memorable triumph a decade back. It was at the 2010 Wyndham Championship staged at the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina, that one of the most glorious chapters in Indian golfing history was written as Atwal became the first Indian to capture a PGA Tour title and conquer uncharted territory.
The 47-year-old Arjun, 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.
“I remember I was really nervous in the moments leading up to the winning putt as I knew that this was my chance at making history. But once I lined up that all-important seven-footer and was ready to make the putt, I was much calmer and in control. After I sank the putt I remember dropping my putter and raising my arms in order to celebrate,” said Atwal, who shot scores of 61, 67, 65 and 67 to total 20-under-260 for the week and beat American David Toms to the post by one stroke.
“There was a huge sense of relief as I had come close to winning in the past on a few occasions on the PGA Tour especially at the BellSouth Classic 2005 where I lost out in a five-way playoff and Phil Mickelson went on to win the event.
“Even though I don’t think too much about past records, I must admit that it does feel very special to be back at the same venue and event and the fact that it’s been 10 years since that win also indicates how much older I am now,” said Atwal with a chuckle.
Arjun, a resident of Windermere, Florida since 2003, has nine other international wins to his credit including three on the European Tour. The 6 foot 1 inch tall Atwal who originally hails from Kolkata became the first Indian to win on the European Tour when he posted an emphatic five-stroke victory at the 2002 Caltex Singapore Masters.
However, Arjun counts his win at the 1999 Indian Open as the other most cherished moment of his professional career after the win on the PGA Tour.
Atwal said, “I won my first Asian Tour event at the 1999 Indian Open. The event also happened to be played at my home course, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC). So winning in front of my home crowd, family and friends made it that much more special.”
Looking back on his junior days Arjun stated that he looked up to Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as they were both among the greatest golfers ever. Atwal also admired Greg Norman who had a lot of style and aura about him and was world no. 1 when the former was growing up.
The illustrious Indian golfer then recalled his days playing golf at college in the United States and how it laid the foundation for him to turn pro.
Arjun said, “Winning golf events while at college in Long Island, New York, really helped build my confidence. That’s where I learnt how to win. I turned pro soon after and therefore carried that very positive mindset that came from winning into my pro career.”
Atwal has worked hard on his fitness since the start of the year and is a lot leaner and fitter now having lost about 10 kgs (22 pounds).
“I knew that I needed to be in the best shape that I can be at this stage of my career in order to compete with players who are much younger. So I began by giving up alcohol on December 31st last year and hit the refresh button. I guess my system needed a jolt. My weight has dropped from 202 pounds to 180 pounds since then. My knees feel a lot better as I’m carrying that much less weight on the course.
“Luckily my home course did not shut down during the lockdown so I could practice throughout without a break. The results of the time spent on practice and fitness are now showing. I made the cut in all three events since returning to tournament action on the PGA Tour last month. Even though I feel that I’ve been making a lot of mistakes especially in my putting, I’m hoping of cleaning all that up before the Wyndham Championship,” said Arjun.
On his strength at the moment, he said, “I think I used to be one of the best putters around at one point but now it’s my 3-Iron that’s my most dependable club. I’ve been quite accurate with it in recent times. There are few better sights in golf than seeing a solid, long-iron shot up in the air.”
Atwal, a father to two sons, is excited about his elder son Krishen’s future prospects who is an aspiring basketball player.
“My son Krishen is 16 years old and in Grade 11. He is 6 foot 5 inches tall and has a great work ethic, I would say better than mine. When I see him do three workouts in a day, it pushes me to work that much harder on my game and fitness. So he’s driving me to work harder without even realizing it,” said the proud father.
Arjun is also very optimistic about the future of Indian golf. He feels young Indian players such as Rashid Khan, Udayan Mane, Aman Raj, Khalin Joshi and Viraj Madappa have a lot of talent and potential and are the ones to watch out for.
Atwal said, “The PGTI has been providing a great platform for young Indian talent to come up. The scores and cuts at PGTI events are much lower than previous years and that indicates that there is a lot of depth in the field and that golf is in a good place in India. The players are also a lot fitter than before. The foundation is there, it’s now up to the players to push themselves and achieve what they can.”
Speaking about the return of competitive golf in these testing times, Arjun was full of praise for the way the PGA Tour has been smoothly conducting tournaments, revealing, “The PGA Tour has laid down a requirement for multiple Covid tests to be carried out before a player takes the field at an event. They’re doing a great job considering the current situation in the US.”
On a lighter note, the 2003 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, reminisced about the place he enjoyed visiting the most during his travels as a professional golfer.
“My favourite destination in all my golfing travels has to be Guam, a beautiful island in the Pacific Ocean which used to host an Asian Tour event in the 1990s. All of us Indians including the likes of Uttam Singh Mundy, Amritinder Singh, Arjun Singh, Gaurav Ghei, Vivek Bhandari and myself used to travel as a big group for the Guam Open. The island was great fun as it had a lot to offer such as pristine beaches and a vibrant nightlife,” said Atwal, who claimed tied second place at the 1998 Guam Open.