Ahmedabad: Home favourite Shiv Kapur expects a tough test on his Challenge Tour debut at this week’s Gujarat Kensville Challenge. Kapur, who won in his Rookie Year in Asia and then played six years on European Tour, believes only his best will be good enough to keep the title in Indian hands, following the triumph of Gaganjeet Bhullar 12 months ago.
Some of the other Indians in the fray could be Rahil Gangjee, who just finished second on the Asian Tour Qualifying School, Chiragh Kumar, winner of the PGTI’s Order of merit in 2011 and Manav Jaini, second at Panasonic Open (India) last year.
Kapur, who narrowly missed keeping his European Tour card feels that even on the developmental Challenge Tour is a tough test. “It is not going to be easy,” he said after playing a practice round at Kensville Golf and Country Club, on the outskirts of the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad, which provided the toughest test on the Challenge Tour last year.
Kapur said: “It is a good field and it is good for Indians to have such events in India, because it gives our players a great chance to test themselves against international players. The only way to improve your game is by playing with players who are better and more experienced than you, so hopefully the Indian guys here this week will take a lot from the tournament.”
Meanwhile, Bhullar, the first Indian to win a Challenge Tour event in its 23-year history, is hoping for some “history repeating” this week as he returns to defend his Gujarat Kensville Challenge title.
The man from the Northern Indian city of Kapurthala produced a shock home victory last year, pipping England’s Matt Ford to the prize by a single shot over the demanding 7,224 yards, par 72 course, which was co-designed by European Tour champion Jeev Milkha Singh.
It is a strong field and there are no fewer than six European Tour winners in the field as well as 19 Challenge Tour champions.
With an improved field this year, which includes one of India’s top golfers Kapur as well as young American Peter Uihlein, who makes his professional debut after a glittering amateur career, Bhullar accepts that successfully defending his title will be no easy task, but he is relishing the opportunity.
“Last year was amazing,” said the 23-year-old Bhullar. “It was my first ever appearance on the Challenge Tour, and winning was lovely. I really remember all four rounds, I enjoyed it and hopefully it will be a case of history repeating this year. This is my second tournament at Kensville and, trust me, this course has improved a lot. Last year there were a few dry patches, but this year the greens are true and fast.”
There is a lot expected of the young Indian and he intends to turn his focus to Europe this year, taking up an affiliate membership which will once again allow him to play on The European Tour and Challenge Tour through invitations.
“I’m going to be an associate member this year, so if I get the opportunity I’ll play as much as I can on the Challenge Tour, because it’s a very good way of getting your card on The European Tour and every Asian and European wants to be on that Tour. It would be a great pleasure to go on and qualify for The European Tour.
“I’m expecting a few invites and golf is a funny game, a few good weeks and it can save your card, it can turn around.”
Kapur said, “The two nines here play very differently. The back nine requires a lot more strategy, and makes you think a lot. You need to use more irons from the tee, and be precise and careful. On the front nine, which is more wide open, you can use your driver much more. So the two halves of the course present different challenges, which makes it very interesting to play.
“The greens are also fast, running at a speed of about 10 or 10.5 on the ‘stimpmeter’. They are also undulating and have a lot of slopes, so you have to be very careful with your shot-making.”
“Overall it is a great course, and I don’t see it to be a very low-scoring one. The winning score could be 12 under or so. We haven’t had any wind so far, but if it does pick up the scoring could become much tougher.”
Daniel Vancsik, with two European Tour titles and three Challenge Tour wins, is the most decorated player present but the likes of John Parry and Oscar Henningson, both winners on The European Tour, will enter the new season harbouring hopes of a return to the big stage via the Challenge Tour Rankings.
Meanwhile, one player with similar ambitions but with a lot less experience is Uihlein, the 22 year old who has caused quite a stir on both sides of the Atlantic as an amateur, impressing in the first round of the 2011 Masters Tournament before making the cut at The Open Championship later in the year.
Along with European Tour champion Jeev Milkha Singh, who co-designed the 7,224, par 72 parkland course at Kensville Golf and Country Club, Kapur has helped to pave the way for and inspire the likes of Bhullar, who won last year’s inaugural event by a single stroke from England’s Matt Ford.