By Farzan Heerjee
It was indeed one of the finest amateur golf championship that the world has been witness to in recent times. Being played in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 12th edition of the Asia Pacific Amateur Golf Championship that was held at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club in Dubai on Nov 3-6, 2021 was a treat for all those who watched the finest amateur golfers from over 40 Asia-Pacific countries play the sport in the true spirit of competitiveness combined with camaraderie in their quest to win the coveted trophy.
At the end of the four-day event, 21-year-old Keita Nakajima of Japan lifted the cup and, in the process, earned an invite to The Masters and The Open after he edged out Taichi Kho of Hong Kong. Nakajima, who was already exempt for the US Open and The 150th Open, holed a 25-foot putt for birdie on the second extra hole after he and Kho had finished tied at the top at 14 under par.
The Indian team at the 12th Asia Pacific Amateur Golf Championship included Rohan Dhole Patil, Shubham Jaglan, Arjun Gupta, Milind Soni, Aryan Roopa Anand and Akshay Neranjen. All of them put in their best even as they had to bear the extra load of carrying their own golf bags and other accessories since no caddies were allowed owing to the COVID 19 pandemic. Three of the players– Shubham Jaglan, Milind Soni and Akshay Neranjen – made the cut in the tournament.
It was a professionally-enhancing and memorable experience for the Indian golfers to play in the tournament that is organized by Asia Pacific Golf Confederation with support from The Masters (also referred to as Augusta) and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Entourages led by Mr Martin Slumbers, CEO of The R&A and Mr Fred Ridley, CEO of Augusta National Golf Club respectively, along with top officials of both the golf organisations were present to watch and encourage the golfers participating at the Championship. Their sheer presence lent a lot of weightage to the entire event.
Besides getting to play in a world-class course, the Indian players got an opportunity to interact with, and receive valuable inputs, on the game from top golfers across the world. The Indian contingent was put up at the beautiful Grand Hyatt, located close to the golf course. The hospitality provided was unmatched. Arrangements made by the authorities were flawless and everything worked with clockwork precision.
The icing on the cake was the gala dinner on Day Three that was organized aboard the luxury cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2, one of the world’s most celebrated ocean liners that is docked permanently in the New Marina at Dubai’s Port Rashid. We also got on to the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa for a truly exhilarating bird’s eye view of the city. Some of us who wished to capture the view on our cameras and mobile phones were trifle disappointed as the reflection from the glass in front of us did not enable us to get the kind of shot that we desired.
Says Rohan Dhole Patil, currently the No 1 Amateur golfer in India: “The experience I gathered at the Asia Pacific Amateur Golf Championship was like none other. The opportunity to play in a featured group with camera crew following us for live telecast was amazing. I got so much to learn in that one week, especially how to adapt to different golf courses”. Rohan attributes his success as a golfer to his father, coach Aditya Kanitkar and trainers Vijay Kadam and Swaroop Savanur.
According to Aryan Roopa Anand, “The opportunity to represent my country at the Asia Pacific Amateur Golf Championship itself was a big high point in my life. It was one of the biggest tournaments that I have participated in. I got the opportunity to compete with some of the world’s highest-ranked players, including the world’s No 1 amateur golfer. We were treated like celebrities and got the opportunity to interact with the likes of Colt Knost and Frank Nobilo. Their inputs have been very valuable for me as a golfer”. Aryan, who is currently in the Top-5 of the IGU Gentlemen Amateur Merit List, took at golf when he was barely eight-years-old. He says he has received tremendous support from his father – an avid golfer himself – and his coach Tarun Sardesai.
For Milind Soni, the championship was a “most memorable and a great learning experience” in his life. Incidentally, the night before his game, Milind was down with a bout of severe food poisoning. With remarkable grit and determination, he took to the course the next day. Milind, the youngest Indian player at the Asia Pacific Amateur Golf Championship 2021, says he cannot thank his coach Bhaskar Samuel enough for the latter’s “unconditional support in my life”.
Reminiscing about the tournament, Akshay Neranjen says that playing in the tournament was a “huge turning point” in his career. “It was a remarkable experience playing with some of the best amateur golfers in the world. I got an opportunity to interact with great golfers like Colt Knost and Frank Nobilo, who gave me their valuable inputs”. Akshay, also among the Top-5 in the IGU Gentlemen Amateur Merit List, has fond memories of his grandfather and father – both keen golfers – taking him regularly to the driving range and golf course of Karnataka Golf Association and Bangalore Golf Club.
Adds Shubham Jaglan: “Playing my first Asia Pacific Championship in Dubai was a great experience. It was the biggest amateur event of my life. I was happy with my performance. Finishing the week playing under par every day was very fulfilling. The best part was meeting the other players and officials and interacting with them”. Interestingly, Shubham comes from a family of wrestlers and took to golf at the age of six because his grandfather wanted him to try out “a new kind of sport”. Shubham is currently in the US for college golf.
I wish to thank the officials of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, The Masters and The R&A for their unflinching support to the championship. I am grateful to the Indian Golf Union for facilitating and supporting India’s participation in the APGC 2021. I am confident that the wonderful sport of golf being in the capable hands of the Indian Golf Union (IGU), will not only further the bonds of friendship among member associations but take logical steps to help the golf industry grow in our country.
While the tournament has given the young players an opportunity to embrace the game and the zeal to one day grow into a major force in international golf, I as a passionate golfer, who wishes to see the game develop, hope that this tournament is a prelude to my participation in many more such exciting events.