The big-built Udayan, currently the second-highest ranked Indian in the world at 356, made the cut for his maiden Olympics after Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo announced his withdrawal from the quadrennial event on Thursday, June 24.
As a result, Udayan qualified for Tokyo on the basis of being first reserve against Grillo’s name. The official announcement of Udayan’s qualification for the Olympics was made this evening (July 6, 2021) on the International Golf Federation’s (IGF) website with Mane being placed No. 60 on the Olympic Golf Rankings list (Anirban Lahiri moved up to No. 59).
Two weeks back, PGA Tour regular Anirban Lahiri, the highest-ranked Indian golfer at 340, had become the first Indian male golfer to qualify for Tokyo 2020 following some withdrawals from the list of qualified players. Lahiri will be appearing at his second consecutive Olympic Games as he had also represented India at the Rio 2016 Olympics along with SSP Chawrasia.
The men’s golf event in Tokyo will feature 60 players and will be played at the Kasumigaseki Country Club from July 29 – August 1.
The Chennai-born Udayan who grew up in Bengaluru and now resides in Pune has been one of the most successful golfers on the PGTI since he turned professional in 2015. The six feet four inches tall Udayan is an 11-time winner on the PGTI and is one of only two players (along with Ashok Kumar) to have won three consecutive events on the tour.
He achieved the feat between December 2019 and February 2020 when he won the TATA Steel Tour Championship 2019, Vooty & Haldi Presents Golconda Masters 2020 Powered by Telangana Tourism and TATA Steel PGTI Players Championship 2020 Presented by Eagleton – The Golf Resort. Mane won PGTI’s last event Prometheus School Presents Delhi-NCR Open in March 2021.
The well-read and articulate Udayan also holds the record for being the only rookie to have won two titles on the tour back in 2015. Udayan was the PGTI Emerging Player of the Year in 2015 having finished a creditable fifth on the PGTI Order of Merit in his debut season. His best finish on the PGTI Rankings has been second place in 2017.
Udayan also had an impressive amateur career prior to turning professional. He was India’s No. 1 amateur in 2014. In 2014, Mane went on to represent the country at the Incheon Asian Games and the Eisenhower Trophy.
Speaking to the PGTI, Udayan said, “I’m really excited about getting the opportunity to represent India at the Olympics. In fact, I’m still pinching myself as it hasn’t yet sunk in fully. With a great 2020-21 season on the PGTI, I felt that I had almost sealed my qualification for the Olympics but the lockdown in India this year put some doubts in my mind whether I could actually make the cut for Tokyo. The only tours which have recently been operational are the PGA Tour and European Tour and I thought the players from those tours had a real chance of pushing through and qualifying for the Olympics.”
With the PGTI becoming a part of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) system in 2019, players such as Udayan have reaped the benefits. Udayan’s exceptional performances over the last two PGTI seasons including two wins in 2019 and three wins in 2020-21 earned him valuable OWGR points that finally helped him qualify for the Olympics. Interestingly, Anirbani, the first Indian to qualify for this year’s Olympics, had also picked up some crucial OWGR points while playing on the PGTI when he finished runner-up at the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational Presented by TAKE in December 2020.
Udayan added, “Playing on the PGTI has been a stepping stone to bigger things for many Indian players including myself. PGTI’s inclusion in the OWGR system has been very beneficial for us Indian professionals playing on our home tour. We now have a chance to shine on the world stage and qualify for many events that we would otherwise not have a chance to play in such as the Olympics. I’ve qualified for Tokyo 2020 solely through the PGTI. I was the top-ranked Indian for a better part of the last one year despite playing on a relatively smaller tour. So we’re thankful to the PGTI for providing us so many playing opportunities and even keeping the tour going during the pandemic.”
Interestingly, there is another common factor between the two Indian Olympic qualifiers. Both have the same coach Vijay Divecha under whose watchful eyes they grew up training at the Eagleton Golf Resort in Bengaluru. Anirban, whenever in India, as well as Udayan, now practice at the Kalhaar Blues & Greens Golf Club in Ahmedabad.
Udayan said, “I’m looking forward to joining Anirban in the Indian team at Tokyo. He’s not only a good friend but also a great golfer and a role-model and more than that he’s an amazing human being. He teaches us on the golf course and off the golf course. He’s the best person to emulate. We’ve been in contact with each other now over the phone more often because ever since he found out about my qualification he’s also been quite excited.”
Udayan now has more purpose to his practice schedule as he has begun preparing vigorously for Tokyo. The Pune resident believes he has good vibes in Japan for multiple reasons that could eventually comfort him when he leaves India’s shores for the Games.
He said, “I spoke to Rahil Gangjee about the conditions in Japan, it’s expected to be the beginning of summer so I guess it will be cool in the mornings and evenings and a little warm in the afternoons. I have played in Japan before during the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy when I shot a 14-under for the week and finished 13th at the event. Until 2018 that was the best finish and score by an Indian at the event. So Japan has been nice to me on the only occasion I’ve been there.
“Interestingly, my mother has visited Japan on numerous occasions because she worked for a medical company that had its headquarters in Japan. So I know I have good vibes in Japan like my father said and comforted me before I left for Japan for the first time.
“As far as preparation for the playing conditions in Japan is concerned, I’ll only be able to figure out the conditions after I get there. I don’t know how far or short the ball may go with each club compared to my standard yardages here in India. What I have done is hit balls off bare lies so that my striking is a little more in tune, I’m a little more precise and I’m ready for everything. The routine is a lot more structured as I know what I’m doing throughout the day or for each day of the week and it’s been rigorous.
“The experience of already having competed at a multi-sport mega-event such as the 2014 Asian Games will in some way help me in adapting to the atmosphere of the Olympics. However, I’m sure the Olympics are unique in their own way. So it’ll be something for me to experience first-hand and something that is well beyond my imagination.
“My approach will be that I’m playing just another golf course over four days and focus on the things that I have to do to beat the golf course every day or play my best on it every day. So the key is to not let the scale of the event bother me but instead focus on how I prepare to do my best over four days on this golf course.”
Text courtesy: PGTI