Carry on Jeev
He created golfing history. He tamed the big guns to pull off a Spanish coup. The first Indian to perform such a feat on European soil, this achievement brought him his biggest prize money of Rs 3.8 crore. Donald Banerjee on
Chiranjeev Milkha Singh and his record-breaking conquests on the green turf
Milkha Singh could not have asked for more. Son of the living
legend Milkha Singh, the 34-year-old golf icon from Chandigarh
emerged as the new messiah on the world golf circuit when he
clinched the Volvo Masters in Spain.
PROUD PARENTS: Nirmal and Milkha Singh
— Photo by Manoj Mahajan
It was a
virtual coup on the Spanish greens with the home crowd of Spain’s
Sergio Garcia virtually breathing down his neck. The Chandigarh
golfer kept his cool in the face of stiff opposition from big
guns like Ryder Cup stars Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald,
besides the home favourite Sergio.
triumph on Sunday got him his lifetime’s best prize-money of
Rs 3.8 crore. The historic win came almost at the same time as
India crumbled before Australia in the Champions Trophy cricket
match at the PCA stadium in Mohali.
It was the
biggest golf triumph by any Indian on European soil. Talking to The
Tribune over the telephone as he headed for Osaka on a tour
of Japan, Jeev, as he is affectionately called by his friends,
said: "It was a fine feeling. It was a dream come
Volvo Masters was no fluke. I had to prove it. Now I look
forward to clashing with Tiger Woods in the HSBC Open in
Shanghai," said Jeev, sounding relaxed.
He talked about
his new innings which had started with just the right strokes in
the China Volvo Masters in April. The Spanish victory had given
him a new determination. He wished to forget the seven years
spent in virtual limbo.
about the double Volvo triumph, Jeev, who turns 35 on December
15, said, he did not look at the scores throughout the game.
But, he admits, after hitting a birdie on the 17th hole, "I
glanced at the leaderboard. It showed I had a two-stroke lead
over Sergio Garcia. That is where I lagged. Two strokes ahead
and the last hole to go. I took that putt a little casually.
That cost me one stroke. I won the title by one stroke. Had I
not seen the leaderboard, it might have been a two-stroke
new-found determination has given Jeev another chance to take on
Tiger Woods. That Jeev can take on the world champion was amply
demonstrated during a clash with the golf tiger in Dubai some
years back. Jeev virtually stepped on the tiger’s tail when he
took the lead in the first two rounds. But after that Jeev had a
very bad patch in his golfing career. Many critics dubbed him as
a "spent force". But whenever I met his father, Flying
Sikh Milkha Singh, he appeared hopeful. He once said, "My
son’s best is yet to come."
created history in the 1960 Rome Olympics when he broke the
world and Olympic record, finishing fourth in the 400-metre
race. Recalling those moments, Milkha Singh said the strain
before the final was overwhelming. There was a two-day gap
between the semi-final and the final. He was not allowed to talk
to any mediaperson. In comparison, he said his son Jeev had
played a natural game.
A big bouquet
adorned the living room of Milkha Singh’s Sector 8 residence
on Monday, when I buttonholed him. The Flying Sikh and his wife
Nirmal were overwhelmed by the congratulatory messages and
Sunday night, Nirmal Milkha Singh, who captained the Indian
volleyball team as Nirmal Saini, said her heart pounded faster
and faster. And this continued till the last putt was played.
Reliving those moments, she said: "It was a see-saw game.
The excitement mounted as the lead changed sides. Jeev appeared
calm. The crowd continued to cheer the home favourite. With two
holes to go on the final day, the scores were even. Then the
Spaniard hit a bogey on the 17th hole. In reply, Jeev executed a
good drive. The ball travelled and rolled into the hole — it
was a birdie. I missed a heartbeat. Yes, Jeev was on the
threshold of creating golfing history. And that came after a
missed stroke on the last hole."
has done it’ I shouted, as tears of joy rolled down my
cheeks." said Nirmal.
the biggest victory of my career so far. I think
this is going to stay with me for the rest of my
life. It’s a special one, and it means a lot to
is a dream come true. I am feeling on top of the
world. I had set some goals for myself like breaking
into the top 100. And here I am, very close to
realising my dreams.
I used to put myself under pressure by thinking
about the end result. Now I take every event as it
comes. This has reduced the pressure and I have
become more relaxed.
want to maintain the momentum in Japan.
- Earlier, Europeans
used to take us casually. Now, I am happy they will
be wary of us and will keep in mind that Indian
golfers have the capacity to topple anybody in the
Barely had the
live coverage ended, the Singhs were flooded with congratulatory
messages. Golf enthusiasts did bhangra as the hosts opened
said the Volvo China Open triumph in April this year was the
first major win for Jeev. Here, he hastened to add, that luck
also played a role. One of Jeev’s drives saw the ball landing
in the jungle. The ball was lost, or so it seemed. The penalty
could have been two strokes. But as luck would have it, the man
who had picked up the ball was caught. The ball was placed at
that spot again. The green was not visible. A mere one-feet
opening at a distance had to be cleared. Jeev took the stroke.
The ball sizzled past a tree bark, came out of the one-foot
opening and landed on the green. This particular stroke brought
back the confidence that was needed at that time. Jeev went on
to win the China Volvo title.
father said Jeev was a born fighter. He recalled the days when
he and Nirmal were both opposed to Jeev taking up any sport
seriously. He said: "We had suffered. Recognition comes
very late in this field. And I know it very well"
As a child,
Chiranjeev was good at cricket. After a brief stint at St John’s
School, Chandigarh, he was packed off to Bishop Cotton School,
Shimla. Jeev captained the school team. Kapil Dev’s coach, D.P.
Azad, told Milkha Singh that his son had the potential to be a
good cricketer. He could be a good stroke-player. Milkha Singh
asked the physical education teacher at Bishop Cotton School to
put his son through a drill of physical fitness. "Make him
sweat, make him run and make him exercise till it hurts,"
were the words of Milkha Singh.
first love continued to be golf. His performance on the greens,
whenever he was in Chandigarh, bore fruit. He took part in the
National Junior Golf in New Delhi and triumphed in 1985. That
victory also gave him a three-week coaching assignment in
Then there was
no going back for Jeev. He stood out on the greens. He was
selected for the Junior World Cup in Melbourne (Australia) where
he finished third. What a coincidence, because it was in
Melbourne that Milkha Singh had taken part in the Olympics in
Also being a
good scholar, Jeev got a scholarship from Abilene Christian
University, Texas. He scored another first when he became the
first Indian to win the Collegiate Golf title in the US.
The labour he
put in saw Jeev march on the pro circuit of the US Tour. In
1996, Jeev created another record. He recorded four-round scores
of 66-66-65-65 in the Philip Morris Asia Cup leg of the Omega
Jeev’s performance shows that
Indians have arrived on the world golfing circuit — Tiger
Woods watch out, the Indian tiger has arrived.
am all set to take on Tiger Woods’
am all set to meet Tiger Woods in the HSBC Open in Shanghai,
which will be held soon after the current Japanese tour."
MOMENT OF TRIUMPH: Jeev holds up the Volvo trophy
A fully charged
Chiranjeev Milkha Singh is all set to take on the might of world
golf icon Tiger Woods in the HSBC Open in Shanghai.
With the Volvo
double in his bag, Chiranjeev still remembers the 2001 Dubai
clash with Tiger Woods, when he came very near to upsetting the
Tiger’s applecart. That year Chiranjeev had come out of forced
hibernation because of a ligament injury he suffered in 2000.
Tiger Woods and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark in the 2001 Dubai Golf
International, Chiranjeev started his game under foggy
conditions at 3 pm. The visibility was poor. This was in sharp
contrast to the morning weather when Tiger Woods and Thomas
Bjorn had played identical eight-under cards.
complete only 14 holes with a score of two under. He shot three
birdies on the remaining four holes the next morning for a first
round card of five under.
The second round
saw Woods playing a four-under card. Jeev outsmarted the Tiger,
returning a six-under card to be just one stroke behind the
moments, Chiranjeev said: "It was amazing. I was virtually
on the tail of the Tiger. At that stage I did feel nervous. Here
was a golfer I had always adored as I watched him executing his
strokes on TV."
As he set out on
the third day, nervousness was writ large on Chiranjeev’s
face. He played a poor one-over on the first nine. But then
seeing his parents and the crowd of Asians egging him on, he
again struck a bright patch, scoring birdies on the 11th, 12th,
13th 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes. But this
comeback was too late. The damage had been done on the first
virtually gave up the game on the fourth day. He finished four
strokes behind Tiger Woods. The title was won by the Danish
That Dubai performance should
be a reminder when Chiranjeev meets Tiger in Shanghai. — D.B.