Wednesday, April 21

Golf pioneer Jeev Milkha Singh eyes the senior circuit

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Jeev Milkha Singh tread an uncharted path around 25 years ago, nudging an emerging band of Indian golf professionals to go beyond home comfort and make a mark on various international tours. It helped professional golf to expand in India.

The four-time winner on the top European and Japanese circuits was also the first Indian to break into the world’s top 50 in ranking and finish in the top 10 of a Major – tied 9th at the 2008 PGA Championship.

Jeev is now eyeing another route which he hopes his compatriots would follow.

He is preparing to play in the world’s top events in the senior circuit – the Majors and European, Japan and PGA tours. He aims to start in January 2022, a month after he turns 50 and becomes eligible for the seniors.

Unlike other sports, golf gives ample opportunities to remain competitive and earn decent prize money into the 50s and 60s.

“I am planning to stretch my golf career for another seven-eight years. I will turn 50 next December and be eligible to compete in the seniors’ circuit. I have already started preparing. My first target is to become a member of the Japan PGA (professional golfers’ association) because in Japan the senior tour in managed by their PGA and one has to be its (Japan PGA) member to be eligible to play,” says Jeev, currently in Japan to give a golf playing test to become a Japan PGA member.

“I won four pro tournaments in Japan, so I will be exempt from their senior tour qualifying tournament, provided I get the membership by clearing the tests. It’s after a very long time, over a couple of decades, that I am giving a golf playing test. I am focused on having playing rights on all top tours in the senior circuit.”

The PGA Tour Champions in the US had scheduled 30 events in 2020, with each event offering more than R10 crore in prize money. Almost half the events were cancelled this season in the aftermath of the pandemic. Senior tours are also run by the European and Asian golfing bodies, offering decent prizemoney. There are three Majors too – British Senior Open, US Senior Open and Senior PGA Championship. Barring the Majors, other senior events are decided over three rounds, one round less than the regular tournaments.

“Because of my previous world ranking in top-50, I am eligible to play all three Majors for the first two years of my turning 50. Later, it will depend on my showing in the Majors. I had sufficient wins on the European tour; on that basis I’ll be exempt from qualification there. For the Champions Tour (US senior circuit), I have to qualify. Most likely, I will be travelling to the US in October next year for the qualifiers,” says Jeev. “Playing in the senior tour will be my retirement fund. If I am able to play for eight years in the 50-plus events, I will be fortunate.”

The later part of Jeev’s pro career was blighted by injury, especially a nagging shoulder problem.

The top senior tournaments are competitive, featuring many past champions. “To survive in the senior tour, one has to be fit and sound. Experience can take you to the next level, but if you are not fit and your body is not working, you can’t perform on the senior tour. My entire focus will be on fitness. I have to continue working on my body so that I can play good golf for the next eight-ten years.

“Moreover, I am hoping I am opening more avenues for Indian professional golfers. Golf is a sport of a lifetime and the pros can earn money through the sport for a very long time.”

There is no pro event for seniors in India. For that to change, more Indian players may have to follow in Jeev’s path again. “With more Indian pros playing in the senior circuit at international tours, there will be opportunities to hold the senior pro circuit here in the future. I am hopeful we will have a Senior India Open in the next few years.”

So, will he bid bye to the general tour? “Many golfers in the world play on both the general and senior tours. Once I turn 50, my main focus will be the senior tour. I will play selectively on the general tour; a lot will depend on my card status in the general section,” says Jeev, who will play in next month’s Chandigarh event named after him – Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational 2020 presented by TAKE.