Himmat Singh Rai was in the wilderness going into the week of the 2011 ISPS Handa Singapore Classic. Three consecutive weeks of missing the cut reflected the form and why he was well outside the safety zone on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit. If anything played on the mind it was securing his card for next season. A breakthrough win was farthest on the horizon.
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It had to do with belief, and that was in short supply for the man who had secured a breakthrough win on the Professional Golf Tour of India in 2009 ‒ two years after turning professional ‒ and challenged K.J. Choi and Retief Goosen on the big stage later in the year at the Iskandar Johor Open, before tying third.
Running two of world golf’s big names close was the first experience of competing with the best and a sign of “I can do this”. But often, the present weighs heavy on the past, especially if the going hasn’t been good. Low on self-belief at the Orchid Country Club, a “there we go again” blurted out when Himmat found the water on the 10th, his first hole, on Day 1 for a double bogey after getting the yardage wrong.
Being paired with compatriot Jyoti Randhawa for the first two rounds proved to be a saving grace as Himmat counts Jyoti as one of the biggest influences on his career. Perhaps a few words of advice were just the boost he needed as thereafter Himmat settled into a rhythm and played solid golf, tee to green, especially on the back nine in extremely windy conditions.
“It was one of my best rounds, putting-wise as I holed everything between 7-10 feet,” said Himmat. From a nightmarish start, he finished three off the lead with a two-under 68, and a look at the leaderboard told him, “You are in with a chance.”
Himmat carried on in the same vein for the next two days, and identical rounds of 66 placed him tied for the lead with Brazil’s Adilson da Silva. It was a novel situation going into the final day, and the restlessness reflected in the restless night. Despite the pressure, Himmat got off to a steady start on the front nine but started to fade away thereafter and with it his title hopes.
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Providence, if we can call it, was the rain delay when the leader group was on the 12th. Struggling to stay afloat, Himmat headed back to the locker room. There was little to do save stay hopeful. He picked up Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’ and read a couple of pages on perseverance. Another measure to take the mind away from the slide was a call home. “Like a player, his family too goes through ups and downs,” and the chat with mother helped soothe nerves.
When Himmat resumed, the expectations were a lot less. Reflecting on the number of times he had finished second on the Asian Tour, Himmat went on a birdie-making spree. His final putt in regulation was not a long one but “one of my best”.
“When I looked at the leaderboard, I was in the playoff. Could not believe in the space of two hours the unexpected had happened,” said Himmat.
Much as he was able to collect himself, Himmat was a bundle of nerves at the start of the playoff, but settled down as calm set in. Of the men he was up against, veteran Filipino Elmer Salvador was the most dogged, holing monstrous putts to take it to the sixth playoff hole.
The light was fading, making it difficult to spot the flag, and it was in twilight that Himmat’s stars began their ascent. Left to sink a 30-footer to seal it, Himmat’s thoughts were on a two putt but the moment he hit it, “I knew it going in.” The outpour of emotion from the reticent golfer was unique, but then the occasion too was one of a kind.
Photo credit: Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour