On a roll
Star Punjab golfer Gaganjeet Bhullar capped the year in grand style by clinching a fifth Asian Tour title after carding an impressive 16-under-268 for the week to lift the Indonesia Open in Jakarta exactly a week back.
Just days after a horrible show at the World Cup in Melbourne, he finished last in the 60-man field, the golfing ace from Kapurthala showed it wasn’t a mistake to unanimously brand him as the rightful successor to the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Joyti Randhawa as he carded a three-under-par 68 to pocket his first Asian Tour title in 2013 by three shots. The win also pushed him to the fourth position in in the latest Asian Tour Order of Merit with total earnings of $462,378.
Interestingly, the 25-year-old had also won his first Asian Tour title in Indonesia back in 2009.
Bhullar so far had a brilliant season. After having posted a runner-up finish at Avantha Masters, a European Tour & Asian Tour co-sanctioned event earlier this year, Bhullar also won the best pro crown at India Golf Awards held recently in Gurgaon. With the top four Asian players at the end of 2013 qualifying for Team Asia to face Europe in the Ryder Cup-styled EurAsia Cup in Malaysia, Bhullar is poised to make the Asian team on his own merit.
Current number one Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who leads the rankings with $1.1 million, is almost assured of securing a place in Team Asia while third-ranked Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh ($486,667) and fifth ranked Anirban Lahiri of India (US$407,801) currently occupy the top-four Asian slots. Australian Scott Hend is second on the merit list with $569,464.
Now among the top players on the Asian Tour, Bhullar must set up to the next level and take part in a majority of the 44 tournament on the European Tour which will be played in 24 countries. He will begin his quest to make a mark on the European Tour at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January. If he can even replicate some of the success he has enjoyed on Asian Tour, it will be commendable.
Bhullar first hogged limelight way back in in 2006 when he was a part of the India team which won silver at 2006 Doha Asian Games. He finished tied seventh in the individual competition. After turning professional in 2009, the same year when he recorded a runner up finish at SAIL Open and besides scripting his maiden victory on the Asian Tour, winning Indonesia President Invitational. The victory catapulted him into 10th on AT Order of Merit.
Bhullar then kept on putting up good performanceswhich saw him win at the Asian Tour International in 2010. The victory launched him from 174th to 115th in the official world rankings, his highest till date. Commenting on the new EurAsia Cup, the Ryder Cup-style event between Asia and Europe that will be played next March, Bhullar recently said, ‘Definitely I’m very keen and hopeful to be in the side for that. I’m going to have to work hard, but it’s something I really want to be involved with. It’s a great format and I’d love to be a part of the winning team.’
On another key development, golf’s inclusion into the Olympic folder from 2016 Rio Games, Bhullar said, ‘Olympics is the ultimate for any sportsperson and it’s the same for me. I’m going to give it my all to try and get there. I’m the highest ranked Indian golfer, and I’ll play the World Cup this year for India, so yes, to be at the Olympics and play well would be a dream.’
Apart from Asian tour, Bhullar also has five wins on 2009 PGTI, 2010 PGTI Players Championship, 2011 Gujarat Kensville Challenge, 2011 Bangladesh Open, 2011 PGTI Players Championship and 2011 Aircel PGTI Players Championship.
On personal front, Bhullar drives a limited-edition Mercedes-Benz (a sponsor till recently), carries a platinum card from Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and has lucrative financial arrangements with Hero MotoCorp, the Jaypee Group and golf equipment maker Titleist. Money drainers, like jetting around the world, hotels and sundry playing and coaching expenses, are taken care of by the sponsorship deals.