It takes courage to own up, and Shabeg Singh Kooner has oodles of it. The 23-year-old from Chandigarh feels no shame in admitting that he wasn’t good enough as a junior or amateur.
Still, he made the transition every amateur golfer dreams of. The parents believed in their boy, but more importantly, Shabeg was confident of making a mark as a professional golfer.
Easier said than done. Making it through Q-School to the Professional Golf Tour of India, Shabeg was still finding his feet among the big boys of Indian golf when the pandemic struck in March last, exactly a year after he had played his first pro event in Chittagong. Staying motivated and occupied was a challenge, and Shabeg admits after a while that he got lazy and struggled to play catch-up.
Instances such as these of stumbling and picking himself up are many, but the strapping athlete ploughs on, learning from each experience. If Lockdown 1 was tough, Lockdown 2 was worse.
Just before the virus sent people scurrying indoors again and unleashed unprecedented misery, Shabeg experienced excruciating pain in the back, but played through it and even made cut at the Delhi NCR Open. “It’s amazing how you learn to adjust when in pain,” he says.
Shabeg stayed in the mix the first two days at Golden Greens, but when the discomfort became unbearable, he stopped worrying about the score, and focussed on finishing the tournament instead. From being diagnosed incorrectly to being finally told that a stress fracture was the root cause, Shabeg was again staring at uncertainty. For close to two months, it was almost complete bed rest among other restrictions.
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What made it worse was that the Forest Hills Golf and Country Club, where Shabeg practices regularly, stayed open during this phase as he waited to get healthy again. Pain free after a while, Shabeg is back at practice. Moments of uncertainty still grip him, but Shabeg has enough going for him to dispel doubts. Primary among them are the memories of carrying uncle Jyoti Randhawa’s bag on the Asian Tour.
The two weeks of the Asia Pacific Open Diamond Cup and Mercuries Taiwan Masters were not good for Jyoti but priceless for Shabeg in terms of learning. “There were good and bad rounds, but all through Jyoti chachu stayed level headed,” reminisces Shabeg.
After watching Jyoti stay calm amid uncertainty, there is no better time to put the learnings to use, and Shabeg hopes to emerge stronger and a better golfer.
Photo credit: Shabeg Singh Kooner