By Joy Chakravarty
Whenever there is a talk about Gaurav Ghei’s magnificent chip-in for an eagle on the 72nd hole to win the 1995 Gadgil Western Masters at Delhi Golf Club, it should be accompanied with drum rolls and loud blowing of the bugle. That shot, replayed again and again on CNN as its ‘Play of the Day, without doubt heralded the arrival of Indian golf on the world scene.
Of course, there were heroic performances before that. Ali Sher won the Indian Open twice in 1991 and ’93. Jeev Milkha Singh made a sensational professional debut with two wins and two second place finishes in the Malaysian Tour in 1993. But these did not have the same impact as Ghei’s sensational triumph on his home course.
The Gadgil Western Masters was a $500,000 tournament on the newly-formed Asian PGA Tour, the precursor to today’s Asian Tour. There was a lot of interest around the new Tour and what it would do for golf in the continent. Also, with a winner’s cheque of nearly $80,500, there was a massive buzz in India. It was possibly the single largest prize money on offer for an individual in Indian sport in those days.
As things stood on that fateful Sunday afternoon, three Indians were in contention going into the final stretch – the young and talented Jyoti Randhawa, Lucknow’s mercurial Vijay Kumar and Ghei, who was playing with the added pressure of being the local Delhi Golf Club hero.
Randhawa, who somehow seems to have unravelled the mysteries of Delhi Golf Club at a very young age, had set the target for Ghei and Kumar playing in the final group – at 12-under par. When the duo reached the par-5 18thtee, Ghei was on 12-under par and knew he needed to make a birdie to beat Randhawa. Kumar was on 11-under par and he definitely needed something better than a par to give himself a chance.
Ghei hit a one-iron off the tee (yes! You read that right!! Players did use that club back then!), and then the one-iron again for his second shot. To his dismay, he flared it right into the rough. Vijay Kumar, on the other hand, hit a peach of a second shot to four feet below the cup, giving himself an easy putt for eagle.
A birdie had now become mandatory for Ghei to keep his hopes alive in the tournament. Even though his knowledge of the DGC greens was probably second to none, he gave the terrain in front of him a thorough look over, before settling for his trusted PING Eye 2 sand wedge.
What followed is well scripted in the record books. The chip was picture-perfect and the ball disappeared in the hole for an eagle. The usually sedate Ghei was delirious with joy and the DGC crowd went in a frenzy.
The predominantly Ghei fans would not remember the look on Kumar’s face when that happened. Years later, when I asked him about it, the admiration and disbelief over that shot was immediately apparent in Kumar’s eyes.
“Gaurav ne mujhe kai tournament me dukhi kiya hai… par us din usne kuch jyada hi dard pahuchaya. Aaj bhi mujhe us shot ke sapne aate hai (Gaurav has saddened me a lot in tournaments, but the pain he caused that day was something else. I still get nightmares of that shot),” he said wistfully.
“Of course, I believed it could be done. But when it happens, it’s difficult to explain the feeling,” Ghei, who is now planning a career on the seniors tour, said.
“It was a perfect end to a really good season for me where I had won five times on the Indian Tour and had a bunch of top-10s on the Asian PGA Tour.
“A month earlier, I was tied for the lead at the Gadgil Western Masters Dubai Creek Open going to the 72nd hole, but dunked it in the water to finish fifth. So, it was nice to win a tournament of similar prize money and of the same sponsor.
“Also, it was my last event for a while as I was undergoing a hernia surgery. So, it was really a very satisfying way to end the year with that one shot.”
With a glorious career stretching almost 30 years, Ghei was bound to have memories of a few more amazing shots, so I probed further.
“There are two other shots that I still remember very fondly,” he recalled.
“One of them was against Mark McNulty in the first round of the 1996 Dunhill Cup (Ghei famously defeated Colin Montgomerie in the second round as India shocked Scotland). On the 12th hole of St Andrews, I hit my drive around 40 yards short of the green.
“It was a really windy day and I didn’t think I could get a pitch close enough. So, I putted from there and holed it for an eagle 2. That was the second time I got the CNN Play of the Day in the span of a year!”
Ghei’s other memorable shot came at the 2007 Johnnie Walker Classic.
“It was my final putt in the tournament. On the 18th hole of the Blue Canyon in Phuket, I holed a putt from nearly 100 feet to tie the course record of eight-under par 64 and that helped me jump several places to finish tied fifth and the leading Asian player,” said Ghei.
“That finish gave me a lot of confidence going into the Pine Valley Open in Beijing two weeks later, which I won.”