Arjun Atwal. Pic: Getty Images
Aug 11: Ten years is a long time, but to Arjun Atwal and his fans in India and elsewhere the memories of his historic win at the Wyndham Championships are still fresh. Now he is ready for another edition at Greensboro in North Carolina this week.
It was one of the many milestones Atwal achieved in his life – the first Indian to win on the European Tour (2002), the first Indian to win on the Korn Ferry Tour (then called Nationwide in 2008) and then the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour (2010). He was also the first Indian to reach the million-dollar mark in prize money on Asian Tour (2003) and the first to earn a PGA Tour card in 2004.
In less than three years from now when he hits his 50th birthday on March 20, 2023, Atwal wants to be ready for a new challenge – the Champions Tour for over 50s. “I want to be the first to win on the Champions Tour, too,” he says with a throaty laugh, that is so unique and recognisable on the other side of the phone.
As we recount all that, he laughs again and says, “That’s a lot of firsts.”
The United States, where he lives in Orlando, Florida, is not new for him. He studied in New York and then after some amateur golf – he came back to Asia, or more specifically India, and decided to turn pro in 1995. He was 22. The Asian Tour, then called the Asian PGA Tour, was formed that year and Atwal was keen to play on it and slowly make his way to Europe and then finally the US. He also won some events on the Indian Tour. And then he made his way back to the US via the qualifying School.
His initial years in the US were extremely interesting. In 2005, he was the 20th alternate (reserve) for the BellSouth Classic, but he ended up not only getting into the tournament but also into a play-off which was won by Phil Mickelson. He did modestly over the next few years but then lost his card. He won on the Nationwide Tour, the second rung Tour in the US, which is now called the Korn Ferry Tour.
In 2010 when he did not have a card, he played the Monday qualifiers for Wyndham and went on to win the title itself, something very rare on the PGA tour. “That was awesome and so cool. Monday-q and a win,” he recalled. This week Atwal has a sponsor’s exemption into the event.
“I still have the desire to win as long my body can still perform. As long as those things are there, then I will play. As of right now, I’m feeling great,” said Atwal, who played the Rocket Mortgage, 3M Open and Barracuda and made cut in all three. “At 47 three cuts in three is not bad,” he says.
Over the years he has also been hit by back and other troubles, but says,” Right now I am at my fittest. Back to the weight I was at (185 pounds) when I first came to the PGA Tour in 2005. I lost 15 pounds,” he proudly announces.
When the new year, 2020, started Atwal promised himself a ‘brand new Arjun Atwal’. His wife, Sona ensured a healthy diet, he exercised seriously, worked out in gyms and did yoga. “It was a combination of all that,” he adds.
“This year, I made a commitment to get fitter. I wanted to see how fit I could be and also to get rid of the aches and pains. I feel good … the legs feel stronger and I’ve added swing speed. I’m hitting the ball longer than in the last five to six years,” he said.
He does not like dwelling in the past. “That’s the way I am. Sure I love recounting the past achievements, but that’s more for the great moments,” he says.
But it is also fun, recounting old memories. “Yeah Asian Tour was fun. Winning titles, getting the Asian Tour Order of Merit (2003), and then getting the European (Tour) card and finally US. I cherish the Wyndham win, but honestly the Indian Open win in 1999 (SSP Chawrasia was second) is something very dear to me. The National Open at my home club (the historic Royal Calcutta Golf Club) was a big deal for me, then and even now,” he says thoughtfully.
And yes, he also thinks leading the Asian Team at the EurAsia Cup (2018) was great. “That was a great honour. I grew on that Tour. I cherish that honour and I worked hard as a Team captain,” he adds.
On his kids and future, he says, “I enjoy the successes of my sons (Krishen and Shiva). They play basketball, though the younger one (Shiva) also like golf. It’s their choice. All I do is to try and tell them about work ethic in sport. I wanted them to see me work hard even now (at this age) and do the same by example,” he adds.
This week at Wyndham Atwal will once again have Anirban Lahiri for company. “Anirban is finally here after a long time. Stuck in India during Covid, he was finally able to come recently and plays the Wyndham. It is so cool to have another fellow Indian in the field. And I hope he will find that form, which a few years back made him Asia No. 1 and a World Top-50 player,” he hopes.
And for himself? “I will give it a good shot. Try to turn the clock back. That will be nice, to contend on Sunday.”