For Digvijay Singh, golfing life starts at 40

Kuala Lumpur: Golfing life, they say, starts at 40 and it seems to be the case for dashing Indian Digvijay Singh.

An adrenaline junkie where he often finds his thrills through adventure sports such as biking and skydiving – he has made over 60 jumps to date – Digvijay finally realised that winning on the elite Asian Tour delivered the biggest excitement of all.

He made four birdies over the closing six holes on Sunday to defeat countryman Gaganjeet Bhullar and Siddikur of Bangladesh and win the Panasonic Open India at the Delhi Golf Club, his first title since starting his career on the Asian Tour in 2000.

“There’s no feeling better than winning an Asian Tour event in India. I’ve won on the local circuit before but this takes the cake,” said a jubilant Singh, who turned 40 in January.

With his career breakthrough lifting his confidence sky high, Digvijay will be on another mission when he competes in this week’s ISPS Handa Singapore Classic at the Orchid Country Club.

The Singapore event will showcase the region’s finest stars including current Order of Merit leader Jbe Kruger of South Africa, two-time Asian Tour number one Jeev Milkha Singh of India, Singaporean star Mardan Mamat, title holder Himmat Rai of India and 40 Tour champions.

Digvijay has often been in the shadows of his more illustrious brother-in-law Jyoti Randhawa, the first Indian to win the prestigious Asian Tour Order of Merit crown in 2002. Randhawa introduced the game to Digvijay when the latter was 17 but throughout 12 years on the Asian Tour, victory eluded him.

He lost his card last season and in four starts this year, Digvijay missed three cuts – form which did not suggest a breakthrough was on the cards until the Panasonic Open India.

At the notoriously challenging Delhi Golf Club, Singh was in control of his game, especially his putting thanks the belly putter which he switched to three months ago. He hit 73 per cent of fairways, which is crucial at the tree-lined course but on the greens, he needed only 1.47 putts per green in regulation, ranking him first in the category. Singh made only one three putt all week.

“I told my caddie to keep reminding me about my rhythm on every shot. Even if I find a bush, it would be in the bush with rhythm,” smiled Digvijay, who rose to ninth place on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit with US$50,040.

“I’ve switched to a belly putter about three months ago and it was a little bit here and there but I’m glad I’ve done it.

“There’s no doubt about it, this is very special for me. I’ve come close but couldn’t convert (in the past). My wife once said ‘what’s wrong with you in the last two days’. So I told my wife, ‘don’t worry, I’ll play the last two days like it was the opening rounds’. I guess that’s what I did.”

Digvijay is the second player in his 40s to win on the Asian Tour this season, following in the footsteps of 44-year-old Mardan Mamat of Singapore, who triumphed in the ICTSI Philippine Open in February. After he buried his final birdie in front of large crowds, Randhawa was amongst the first to celebrate with Digvijay.

The Indian, who has the good looks for Bollywood, lost his Tour card last season but he did not put himself down despite seeing other younger Indian compatriots such as Himmat Rai, Anirban Lahiri, S.S.P. Chowrasia and Gaganjeet Bhullar all winning on the Asian Tour.

“I wasn’t disheartened. I told myself this is where I am and I should make the most of it. It was frustrating that everybody has won it, except me. I’ll be honest … I did have a victory speech in my head when I was driving up here (on Sunday).

“I kept thinking to myself what am I going to say if I won. It is a very good field and I thought to myself that some of the guys here have won enough! I told myself this one is mine and I’m going to take it,” he added.

Photo: Dharamveer Diwakar