There are parallels to be drawn from that epochal week of the Volkswagen Masters — China this day in 2004 as Rahil Gangjee gets ready for the Japan Players Championship. We are talking of events across two global tours, but for Rahil his maiden win on the Asian Tour 17 years ago on May 2 holds out lessons for the following week on the Japan Golf Tour.
In a race to secure his card in Japan for next season, there are quite a few similarities. What isn’t is 2004 was Rahil’s rookie year on the Asian Tour and here he’s a proven winner. Going with it, there are expectations that the work on the swing will pay off and a strong weekend is just round the corner. Already, there are signs of a revival with Sunday’s T29 at The Crowns Rahil’s best finish in three starts since he landed for a restart.
Back then, it was about a “brand new boy on Tour” arriving at Beijing’s Pine Valley Golf Club with nothing in the head, no expectations”. “Just looking to quietly play golf,” says Rahil. The buildup too was anything but ideal. The trip to the Asian Tour Q-School at the end of 2003 did not work; what bailed him out was a country spot for 2004. The prelude to China was a top-20 and two missed cut that included the Indian Open.
But once at Pine Valley, Rahil’s stars started to rise. For the first time, he got a taste of being in lead, and went into Sunday tied for the top spot. Tonight, as Rahil quietly observes the anniversary with perhaps a meal of steak and beer in remembrance, he talks about the insecurities of a rookie.
Happy that the work on the swing with long-time coach Ajai Gupta was paying off, Rahil was eager to repeat the “right things” on the golf course. Off it too as well, and that meant having steak and beer through the week with fellow pro and now Professional Golf Tour of India CEO Uttam Singh Mundy.
Looking back, he feels “it was my time to win”, and that is attributed to Ryder Cup player Phillip Price failing to make the playoff. “Had he come through, he would have kicked our ass,” says Rahil. Needing to birdie the 18th to make it a three-way affair with Rahil and Korea’s Mo Joong Kyung, at 15-under, Price fell short.
Sudden death panned out normally with Rahil leaving himself a very short putt for par. Just when he thought the trophy was his after Mo duffed his bunker shot, Rahil experienced an unexpected tingle. “The head started shaking so much that I got worried. Luckily, the ball went in.” The relief was immense and he shared the flood of emotions with Tour buddy Amandeep Johl waiting by the edge. It was a tight hug from a golfer towering by Rahil’s standards, but all that debate got dissolved in the affection and enormity of the occasion.