Gaganjit Bhullar, the youngest Indian to qualify for the British Open, gives full credit to his sports psychologist for giving him mental strength, writes Donald Banerjee
Following close on the heels of Jeev Milkha Singh, who has made a mark in the international golf circuit, a 20-year-old from Kapurthala is slowly but steadily inching his way into the European Tour circuit
Gaganjeet Bhullar, who turns 21 on April 27 this year, is all set to prove his mettle when he tees off along with the world’s top golfers, including Jeev Milkha Singh, in the British Open at Turnberry in Scotland on July 16.
This lad from Kapurthala is the youngest Indian to play in the British Open. Bhullar’s childhood dream of playing in a Major event came true when he fired a four under par 67 to win the International Final Qualifying-Asia Championship at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore two weeks back.
Recalling the last day of the Singapore qualifying event, he said, "I knew I would have to go all out and play the game of my life to make the trip to Scotland when I started the final day in tied eighth slot and four shots off the lead. I actually set a target of five under for the day. I managed to card a four under and topped the qualifying event."
Bhullar gives credit to his sports psychologist for helping turn his game around. "Last year, I lost six or seven tournaments when I was in contention where I didn’t play well. I was a bit frustrated and he (Dr Pradeep Aggarwal) told me to do something to lose my frustration", said Bhullar.
The 20-year-old year Indian from Kapurthala has since witnessed a revival of fortunes, having posted three top 10s in the six events that he has played on the Asian Tour so far.
"I played really well on the final day of the qualifying event and it’s all thanks to Dr Pradeep Aggarwal who has helped me a lot in improving my mental strength. Without his teachings, I doubt I would have gone this far", said Bhullar.
"The techniques have been working for me. In golf, there’s so much emphasis on the mental aspect as well and I just have to believe in myself and repeat the same thing that I’ve been doing", added Bhullar who has moved up four spots to 14th place on the Asian Tour Order of Merit on $59,607.77.
A delighted Bhullar said, "I’ve been watching the British Open since I was a kid and to actually get to play there is truly a dream come true".
Bhullar has been improving with every outing on the Asian Tour. He finished tied fifth in the Black Mountain Masters at Sentosa on March 30. Bhullar gave further cheer when he set a new course record firing a nine under 63 in this Asian Tour event.
The hard-hitting Kapurthala boy was India’s number one amateur in 2004 and 2006 and claimed a silver medal in the team event at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. He also won the World Junior Masters Championship in 2005.
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Despite initial reservations you are now playing in the IPL. So was the decision taken because the IPL is now being held in South Africa?
It was a tough decision for me to make. I was in two minds. It has been a terrible year for me. But the challenge for me was to take a step ahead and fulfill my commitment. I have a two-year contract with Delhi Daredevils.
You lost your wife Jane last year. Tough time for you?
That was another reason why I was initially reluctant to come and play in IPL. My children are with their grandparents and it was tough leaving them behind at a time when their mother has passed away. It was a tough choice for me to make. But again I am a professional cricketer and had some commitments.
The Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA) had raised its reservation on Australian cricketers visiting subcontinent in the wake of Mumbai incident and Lahore attack on Sri Lankan cricketers. So why did you come to India? You could have flown directly to South Africa?
I had no choice. I am contracted with Daredevils. I feel sorry for the incidents that are taking place in the subcontinent. But still the England team also came back to play in the Test series after terrorist attack in Mumbai. So why can’t I?
International teams have stopped touring the strife-torn country that has given a lot to the game. Do you feel sorry for Pakistan cricket?
It is unfortunate that cricket in Pakistan is suffering due to instability in the country. It is, in fact, a shame and the most horrific thing is that now cricketers are also being made target by terrorists. There are lots of talented cricketers in Pakistan and they are not able to get the taste of international cricket. You can’t help them until and unless the government comes out with a strong policy to stop terrorism.
How do you feel about IPL in South Africa?
It is unfortunate that the tournament was shifted out of India. Last time we got a wonderful response and will feel bad for our fans in Delhi. But on the hindsight, this time IPL will have a global appeal.
Last time Daredevils came very close to winning the trophy. What do you think about the team’s chances this time?
I think all the guys are in a fantastic form. Be it our openers (Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir) or our bowlers. The side is much balanced and the inclusion of an youngster like David Warner will make team special. Warner is a special talent and I feel he will be the guy to watch out for this time.
Sehwag and Gambhir are in a great form. Do you feel India has the best opening pair in the world now?
I feel players like Sehwag and Gambhir have made a great contribution in India’s success overseas. Opening was always a problem for India whenever they played Tests overseas. But now they have a set opening pair and both are aggressive. They have done exceptionally well over the last few months in all forms of the game. I am lucky that I don’t have to bowl to them in the IPL.
Do you enjoy bowling to Sehwag?
Yes. I really enjoy a lot bowling to Viru. He is a guy who will give you lot of chances but if you err marginally he will punish you hard. He is a very destructive batsman and can take the game away from you. He is also a fine captain and I have enjoyed bowling under him last year.
Who do you think is the greatest — Sachin Tendulkar or Don Bradman?
Sachin has something very special in him. It is very difficult to say whether Sachin is a better player than Don. I am also an Australian loyalist but when it comes to stats, it is Sachin. If you talk about the special factor between the two, Sachin is the very, very special.
You are pushing 40. Players like you and Sanath Jayasuriya have shown that Twenty20 is not just for youngsters?
You can play as long as
you are fit. For bowlers it becomes a bit tough while batsmen can play
till 40. Sanath is a great cricketer and he is in a fine shape. He has a
great hand and eye co-ordination and I feel he can play for another
couple of years if he maintains his fitness level. — TWF