All set for three days of fun on fairways

Gurgaon: The wait is almost over. The enthusiasm of the boys and girls – from six-year-olds to been-there-done-that teenagers on the cusp of turning 18 – is palpable. Junior golfers from seven countries will be teeing off alongside India’s best as the 3rd Albatross International Junior Golf Championship India gets under way today, at the ITC Classic Golf Resort.

The tournament was inaugurated yesterday, with the young visitors from abroad accorded a warm – and typically Indian – welcome by the Albatross Junior Tour, hosts for the week. The opening ceremony was preceded by a Rules clinic conducted by PGTI referee David Range.

The Albatross International JGCI, co-sanctioned by the Albatross Junior Tour and the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy (IJGA), USA, will for the first time carry R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking points, providing further incentive for the budding golfers. Further proof that this truly is, now, a world-class event.

Overseas competitors make up almost a quarter of the field at this year’s tournament. Participants from China, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand and United Arab Emirates (Dubai), will be part of a record field of 160 players.

From Thailand, watch out for Sarit Suwannarut, winner (13-14 yrs) of the 2011 World Masters of Junior Golf (USA), and Puwit Anupansuebsai, placed top in the Thailand Junior Golf Federation’s (TJGF) division ‘C’ (boys). The gifted Puwit triumphed at the 2010 Callaway Junior World Championships (9-10 years), and was winner, this year, of the World Masters of Junior Golf (11-12 years) and the Enjoy Jakarta World Junior Golf Championship. In the first edition of the Albatross International Junior in 2009, Puwit stormed to victory in category ‘D’ by an astonishing 24 shots!

Meanwhile, South African – represented by Hayden Garcia and Johan Germishuys (boys), and Kim Daniel and Michaela Fletcher (girls) – are expected to mount a strong defence.

Among the girls, the names to keep an eye out on include 2011 TJGF topper (division ‘B’), Benyapa Niphatsophon, no. 244 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (the seventh best Thai lady amateur) and winner of the 2011 World Masters of Junior Golf (13-14 years). Ayaka Nakayama and Moyu Sasaki (category ‘A’), two Japanese girls ranked first and second, respectively, on Hank Haney’s International Junior Golf Tour (IJGT), will also be teeing it up at the Jack Nicklaus Signature, alongside promising Chinese Wu Sha (category ‘B’, and no. 331 in the world, the third best Chinese lady amateur), making for a competitive girls’ field.

India’s challenge will come from defending champion Subhankar Sharma, who put on a nerveless display to win category ‘A’ (15-17 years) in last year’s Albatross International Junior, and the promising – and unruffled – Manu Gandas. The home contingent in category ‘B’ – Piyush Sangwan, Feroz Garewal and Prakhar Asawa – is particularly strong, and any of the three is capable of winning. Sangwan, in fact, can make it a hat-trick of titles (he won category ‘C’ in 2009 and ’10).

And much will be expected of talented Bangalore lass, Nikita Arjun, winner of category ‘A’ in 2009, and Amrita Anand, category ‘D’ champ in ’09 (and 2nd in category ‘C’ last year).