Refreshed and 15-pounds lighter Atwal resets start button, clears Covid-19 test and is set for Rocket Mortgage

V Krishnaswamy

New Delhi, July 1: Arjun Atwal is done with the first hurdle – he tested negative on arrival in Detroit, ahead of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, this week’s event on the PGA Tour’s ‘Return to Golf’.

Flying into the venue on a commercial flight, he said, “The first thing was a test on arrival. No going to the course or the range, till the test came through. I had to wait for close to two hours, but in a sense felt relieved at all these precautions.”

Now that he is set, he was relieved and laughing as he said, “I am glad it was not a test in Math.”

Atwal will play the first two rounds with Matt Jones and Michael Thompson and tee off in the first round in the afternoon at 1.20 pm local time.

That apart, he was raring to go. “I have worked hard, lost almost 15 pounds, trained a bit with my son, who plays basketball. I have a new regimen, a new diet schedule and am taking less calories and working real hard,” said the man, who is the only Indian to tasted success on the PGA Tour. He won the Wyndham Championship in 2010. “That was ten years ago, a long, long time ago,” he says.

Now 47, Atwal believes he can still compete at this level – he was runner up, losing in a play-off at thee 2017 Mauritius Open, an event co-sanctioned between European and Asian Tours. And of course, there is the example of Phil Mickelson, who turned 50 in June.

“I look forward to competing (this week). I miss the adrenaline. When I got the news that I got in through a sponsor’s exemption, I started getting excited to practice again. I started practising with a purpose,” said Atwal.

Though he played five PGA Tour events in Fall in 2019, this is only his fourth start in 2020. His last start was The Honda Classic for which he came through the Monday qualifiers.”

As for playing, Atwal said, “The golf club (near his home) didn’t close and I did some practice but it was a weird experience. There was no real purpose to practice with the shutdown,” said Atwal, who is based in Windermere, Florida.

“I had a slight rib injury which I managed to get rid of. I’m looking forward to this one, as my body feels okay for the first time in a long while. To play a tournament pain free would be great. Look forward to playing without back pain.”

His diet plan included reducing his carbohydrate intake, increasing his consumption of fruit and vegetables and stopped drinking alcohol since the turn of the new decade. He also started working out three to four times a week and practices yoga diligently to remain supple.

“I don’t remember how long ago I have felt like this. It’s been a gradual weight loss and I’ve added swing speed too. I’m back to 185 pounds which was the same number when I got onto the PGA TOUR in 2004,” said Atwal, who has won eight times on the Asian Tour.

“This year I made a commitment to change my diet and get fitter. I’ve not had alcohol at all and I wanted to see how fit I could get. I wanted to get rid of the aches and pains, which I’ve had for a number of years. I cleaned up my food … eating less carbs, lighter calories and not consuming 3,000 calories daily like before. I feel good. The legs feel stronger and I’m hoping that when I get to Sunday, it’ll show up when you’re carrying less weight.”

As for the Donald Ross-designed Detroit Golf Club, Atwal said, “The course would fit me as it’s a Donald Ross design which is old-school and my type of golf course. Working the ball around will be a premium and as long as it’s not a bomber’s paradise, I’m okay as I’m also hitting the ball longer than in the last five to six years.” His lone win at Wyndham came at thee Sedgefield Country Club designed by Ross.

“In the few rounds I’ve played at home, I’ve played nicely and we’ll see if I can do it in Detroit,” said Atwal.

Three years away from turning 50, Atwal added, “I want to get on a roll and get competitive. By the time I’m 50, I’ll also be ready to play on Champions. I want to win on that tour as well. I still have the desire to win as long as my body can perform. If those things are there, then I will play. As of right now, I’m feeling great.”

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