DUBAI // Not that she needs it judging by her recent rise through the game, but it must be nice for Aditi Ashok to be able to turn to the greatest female golfer in history for some advice.
The Indian youngster, currently three off the pace at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters going into the final round, has enjoyed an incredible ascent this season, securing rookie-of-the-year honours on the Ladies European Tour (LET), helped in no small part by back-to-back victories last month.
The Summer Olympics apparently sparked the run, which heading into the calendar’s final stop included those two wins and six top-10s altogether. At the halfway stage in Rio, Ashok sat in the spot for the bronze medal having earlier topped the leaderboard, before she eventually finished 41st.
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Still, the 18-year-old with the talent and temperament to match had done enough to catch the attention of a true golfing great. She just happened to be one of her heroes, too.
“I got a couple of messages from Annika during Rio and when I won in India,” says Ashok of Annika Sorenstam, the 10-time major winner with more professional victories – 89 – than any other women’s golfer. “So, yeah, that was pretty cool. Because I’ve watched her playing growing up and she’s one of my idols.
“She just said ‘you’re on the right track and congrats on your first win’ and stuff like that. So it was cool to get a message from her.”
“Cool” is one way to describe it; “invaluable” might be another. A World Golf Hall of Famer, Sorenstam has been able to provide insight into professional life, what to focus on and how to drown out the inevitable noise that has come Ashok’s way especially since that triumph at the Hero Women’s Indian Open.
There, the Bangalore native defeated Brittany Lincicome and Belen Mozo by one shot to become the first Indian winner in the tournament’s decade-old existence.
Given her busy schedule, Ashok has not been home to really sample the fallout from the victory, but knows as a fast-rising star, much will lie on her shoulders in terms of growing the game there. But the expectation, and the intensity of the spotlight, does not phase her one bit.
“I think it’s normal,” Ashok says. “It’s golf – they just want to know what works for me and what doesn’t, so that’s fine. I’m sort of a private person, but it’s been fine so far.
“I haven’t really gone home since India, but still, I think there will be a big impact because it’s the first time in 10 years we had an Indian winner, and also I won on the LET after that. Hopefully more sponsors will want to support women’s golf in India.
“A lot of people write about me because I’m an Olympian, not just part of women’s golf. In that sense, I think women’s golf is getting more popular in India. It’s good. I just try to deal with that as best I can.”
She seems to be succeeding. Ashok describes herself as “naturally calm” – something she attributes more to mum than to dad – and she appears set to continue her climb. She arrived in Dubai on the back of clinching conditional playing rights on next year’s LPGA Tour, meaning that circuit’s rookie prize represents an obvious target for 2017. So, too, the game’s premier events.
“Obviously majors are really big and I want to do well in them,” says Ashok, who carded a 70 in Dubai on Friday to move to 4-under par for the tournament and into a tie for fourth. “They are the ultimate test in golf, because the world’s best are there and to do well there assures you that you’re a good golfer.”
To be fair, with the season-long crown and titles in India and Qatar, Ashok has already more than proved her credentials.
“It’s been a great year, obviously,” she says. “It was a goal to win in my rookie year and I got two wins back-to-back and that was really good. And winning in my home country, as well, that was quite a lot of fun. I’ve had a pretty good year. I’m happy.”
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