King of Clubs
Four major titles, a
career-high of 34 in the world rankings, there is no stopping
ace golfer Jeev Milkha Singh, writes Donald
Jeev Milkha Singh with the trophy after winning the
Singapore Open, 2008 Photo: Reuters
Milkha Singh has been reborn — as a star. This
gentleman golfer from Chandigarh has emerged as the country’s
first golf icon. But with a difference. He doesn’t have the
trappings or the tantrums that go with the territory.
Last year was a
dream run for Jeev. In his most successful season to date, the
ace golfer won four titles (one each on the European (Austrian
Open) and Asian Tour (Singapore Open) and two on the Japanese
Tour to end the year at a career-high of 34 in the world
The golf icon also
clinched the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit for the second time
in three years, becoming the first man to win more than $1
million in one season. He was also voted the Players’ Player
of the Year in Asia.
Club and CGA Golf Range recently held special functions to
honour Jeev. The presence of a large number of fans and the
cheers from the crowded lawns were a clear indication that Jeev
But the golfer
remains unfazed by all this adulation. He takes success in his
stride or shall we say in his swing.
Jeev laughs it off
saying: "I am yet to achieve stardom. The star in family is
my dad Milkha Singh. I will have to win a Major title to come
anywhere near him."
"Since I am
not a star, so how can I throw tantrums," says the modest
golfer during a chat at his Sector 8 residence in Chandigarh.
He looks cool,
calm and relaxed after a massage session by Pedro Seville,
European Tour physiotherapist from the Philippines, who is in
Chandigarh, to get him back into shape for the immediate
European Tour events to be held in Dubai and Qatar from January
15. His right ankle continues to give him trouble. "It
needs to be strengthened," says the physiotherapist. Jeev
has to take breaks after every strenuous golf session.
"Last year I
triumphed after taking pain-killers and ignoring my injuries.
But this year I will be concentrating on the US PGA and the
European Tours. The Asian Tour takes a back seat. That means I
get a lot of rest in between Major tournaments."
Jeev with his father Milkha Singh, mother Nirmal and wife Kudrat
Photo: Manoj Mahajan
Jeev, who also
clinched the ninth slot in the US PGA Tour, is determined to
grab one of the four Majors this year. "I think the right
time to win a Major has come," he says.
"2008 was a
good year. But my best is yet to come. I think I am in the right
frame of mind to win a Major title this year," Jeev adds.
Is he prepared to
take on the world champions?
comes the emphatic reply. "If I could conquer three-time
Major winner Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els in the Barclays
Singapore Open, I can do it again for a Major title on the US or
the European soil," says the confident player.
"Golf is a
mental game. I was aggressive in 2007 and paid the price. My
positive game in 2008 got me the second Asian crown and 34th
place in world ranking," he adds with a smile.
" I am 38 and
if I keep myself fit I can go on till the age of 50. But before
I retire I will have a Major title under my belt," says the
His driving and
putting are in perfect order. He is trying to get accuracy in
distance control, in which he considers Tiger Woods as the best.
Once that is achieved "a Major title is within reach",
says the golfer.
much-hyped talk on earnings from the Asian Tour (about $ 1.5
million) and the Japan and European Tour, besides the US PGA
tour, which comes to a total of about $ 3 million, Jeev says
more than half of the prize money goes into the fees for green,
caddies, air fare and board and lodging in five-star resorts,
running the courses.
well-settled now. I can handle these finances, but imagine the
plight of upcoming golfers who fail to make the cut and yet have
to foot the expenses," says Jeev.
He is all praise
for the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), which has
brought a lot of prize money tournaments to the country. Gautam
Thapar of the Thapar group, which controls the PGTI, is the main
sponsor for Gaganjeet Bhullar of Kapurthala, Shiv Kapur and
S.S.P Chowrasia. Others who came forward to help the budding
pros were Dilip Thomas of the Indian Golf Union, Pawan Munjal of
Hero Honda and Arvind Khanna, who floated the Tiger Sports.
houses should come forward to sponsor budding golf professionals
during the initial years when they have to fend for themselves
after failing to make the cut, adds the ace golfer.
He feels if 10
business houses come forward to sponsor at least three golfers
each, India will be able to produce an Asian champion every
He also feels that
golfers can’t attain the superstardom of cricketers because
they are less seen in advertisements and on TV. "But a
beginning has been made, I have started getting advertisement
campaigns," says the golf icon.
According to Jeev,
"Golf has a bright future. In fact, it is the game India
should look forward to. It is growing in the country in a big
way. It is undoubtedly the future sport of India. The time has
come to open public driving ranges in all cities so that the
sport does not remain restricted to a select few."
The golfer feels
that future champions will come from small towns and cities.
"The accessibility to the greens is a major factor to
remove the pressure that is the bane of the big city golfers,
who have to travel long distances through traffic jams to reach
started taking interest in this sport and now many parents want
their kids to adopt golf as a professional sport," he adds.
Jeev is happy that
a lot more golf clubs are coming up in the vicinity of
Chandigarh. He has a word of praise for D. Dhesi who, he says,
is instrumental in bringing about a golf course in Panchkula.
"The greens are good and the golf course is of
international standards," says the golf pro.
Talking about the
Japan Tour, where his victory in the Nippon Series JT Cup came
with a great personal loss (his wife Kudrat had delivered a
stillborn child prior to the tournament), Jeev says he took part
in the tournament only due to his wife’s insistence.
"I was not
focussed," says the golfer. "My mind was with Kudrat,
who was recuperating in a Tokyo hospital. I won the tournament
and dedicated the triumph to my wife. She was the winner,"
he adds sombrely.
Kudrat is not a golfer, says Jeev, "but she walks the
greens along with me. That gives me the confidence in all major
and determination in Jeev are very much in his genes, passed
down from his Olympian father, ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh.
His father had won 76 of the 80 international races he took part
Apart from the
grit, Jeev and his father also share a unique honour. Both have
been awarded the Padma Shri. Milkha Singh got it after the
Commonwealth Games in 1958, while Jeev was honoured with it in
If India is a name
to reckon with in international golf, it is due to Jeev’s hard
work. But the country may have remained deprived of the talent
of this iconic player had he fallen in with his parents wishes.
Both Milkha Singh
and Nirmal Milkha Singh were against their son taking to sports.
They wanted him to become an engineer or a doctor. Jeev
initially took to cricket during his school days at Bishop
Cotton (Shimla) and St John’s (Chandigarh). But he also played
golf whenever he was in Chandigarh. It seemed as if the sport
came naturally to him.
parents’ resistance, Jeev continued to play and blossomed into
a good golfer. At the age of 13, he won the Aerospace Junior
title and then went to England on a three-month coaching
assignment. There was no looking back after that.
On his way to the
top, Jeev has always abided by his father’s advice: "Only
hard work, discipline and will power will take you to the peak
in any sport."
This year Jeev’s
focus will be on the US PGA. He will also have a go at the four
Majors starting with the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta,
USA, in April, the US Open in June, the British Open in July and
the PGA Tour in August.
The golfer will
also take part in the European Tour, play three events on the
Japan Tour and only a restricted few events on the Asian Tour.