Had the pandemic not struck last year and the Tokyo Games gone ahead as per schedule, Rashid Khan would have made his Olympic debut as India’s number one golfer. With a career-best world ranking of 176 at the start of 2020, the experience of turning out in Tokyo under the Indian Tricolour would have been precious and the takeaway memories from Kasumigaseki Country Club priceless.
Khan’s build-up to the Games was the result of some solid golf and sound strategy. Making the most of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) and solid results in Asian Tour events at home in 2019, Khan was India number one when the pandemic stalled events on the Asian Tour and PGTI in March last.
Given the enormity of the crisis, the Olympics got postponed. “I was in and ahead when the pandemic started, and they froze the OWGR points.”
The double whammy was the rustiness after the PGTI restarted in November last. Out of touch and trying to play catch up with fewer OWGR points on the PGTI took a toll on the world ranking of Khan and Udayan Mane, who were in a neck-and-neck race to seal Olympic berths when the virus struck. Both slipped out of the top-60 in the race to Tokyo, and that rankles for Khan.
And when the Final Olympic Ranking was confirmed last week, Anirban Lahiri was the only Indian to make it through after securing 60th place in the 60-man field at the eleventh hour following several player withdrawals. Mane is set to follow as one of the replacements.
“Why me, the person with the best feel should have made the Olympics,” said Khan.
Two wins on the Asian Tour and 10 on the PGTI, for someone as prolific as Khan picking up his first OWGR points after more than a year this February is a shocker and attributed to lack of touch. “When the feel goes, it is tough. With no tournaments, the circumstances have been disappointing,” he said.
Reliving childhood days
Not one to brood over a situation none had anticipated, Khan visited his village in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh in May. When he arrived in Jagdishpur near Lucknow, the state capital, Lockdown 2 was in force, but Khan still carried his golf set. Earlier, trips to the ancestral home built by his grandfather were whirlwind visits; for the first time in 19 years he stayed more than a week, in fact two weeks.
It was a throwback, meeting friends and family and spending quality time over sessions of sequence (a card game). What stands out is visiting the small river that flows near the house every day and sitting on the bank for hours fishing. The icing to the cool experience was plucking mangoes from the family orchard and sharing them as the friends sat with their feet dipped in the river.
Despite the clubs travelling with him, golf was incidental, or “for fun” as Khan terms it. An empty rice field became a makeshift driving range. The weather pleasant, retrieving the balls was no problem as a bunch of wide-eyed children were always willing for the job. All clubs were tried out except the putter. For a man struggling to regain touch, putting on an uneven surface would have been detrimental.
What did work for Khan during the trip is his sleep pattern got regulated. “In the village everyone has dinner by 7.30pm and sleeps by 9 since there is nothing to do.” It contrasted with his hours in Delhi ‒ staying up till 1am and waking up around noon.
It’s been a month since Khan got back from holiday, but the pattern has held, and that’s a positive as the city unlocks and Khan gets back to full-fledged practice.