Rio Olympics: Fly high with the birdies, Aditi Ashok, teen golfer

Roopa Pai introduces us to 18-year-old Aditi Ashok, the youngest golfer at the Rio Olympics 2016, and gives us a lesson in golf basics! Aditi may not have won a medal, but she has entered India’s consciousness forever.

(Published with permission from Roopa Pai, who first wrote this post on her Facebook wall. Photos courtesy @OlympicGolf on Twitter.) 

Aditi Ashok-Olympic GolfThere is a certain poetic justice to the fact that the first woman golfer to qualify for the Olympics from India, in golf’s first outing at the Games since 1904, is from Bangalore, and that her home club is the Bangalore Golf Club. For the fairways of the BGC are the very oldest in India, making it the country’s most hallowed golf ground. (Members of The Royal Calcutta Golf Club will contest this claim hotly, declaring that it is the ‘Royal’, the very first golf club anywhere outside the British Isles, that is the oldest. They will say, and rightly, that it was founded in 1829, decades before the BGC got its charter in 1876. But the Royal has moved twice since it was founded, coming to its current location in Tollygunge only in 1910, while the BGC has stayed at its original location till date, making it the only golf course in India where the game has been played for a full 140 years now. So there!)

With an IGF world ranking of 57, 18-year-old Aditi Ashok squeaked into the top-60 bracket required for an automatic Rio qualification in July, becoming the youngest female player in the world to make the cut. A considerable achievement by any stretch, but just one look at the ‘About Me’ page on her personal website should make clear that having the words ‘youngest’, ‘first’ and ‘only’ tacked on to her achievements is something Aditi has always excelled at.

She won her maiden national title when she was only 9. When she started playing for India, she was, at only 12, the youngest member of the team. She became the National Amateur Champion when she was only 13. She won her first pro title on the WGAI (Women’s Golf Association of India) in the same year, a stunning achievement, for not only was it the very first time that an amateur had won a title on WGAI Pro Tour of India, it also made Aditi the youngest amateur to win a pro title anywhere in the world.

But her biggest achievement came in December last year, when she won the Lalla Aicha Tour School, a Q-school for the 2016 Ladies European Tour, becoming the first Indian, male or female, to win a tour card for any internationally-ranked tour. (Q-school is short for qualifying school, and is a tournament that helps you qualify, or ‘win a tour card’, for leading golf tournaments in the world, like the US-based PGA tour and the European Tour. Each tour has its own Q-schools, and only a certain number of toppers in each Q-school tournament get carded, thus winning themselves the privilege of playing in most of that tour’s events without having to qualify for each one). She also became the youngest ever to win this particular Q-school, defeating a field of world-class competitors from 35 countries. She ended the year, and her amateur career, as World No 11 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, before turning professional on 1st January, 2016, two months before she turned 18.

In July, Aditi Ashok qualified for Rio. But it is only over the last 48 hours that she has entered the national consciousness, as an Indian athlete who could be in line for the country’s third Olympic medal.

At the end of Day 2 of the four-day Olympic golf event, Aditi was at 7th place, a spectacular achievement in a field studded with the world’s best (top women golfers, unlike their male counterparts, did not drop out of the Olympics for fear of contracting the Zika virus).

But of course, all this information is mere gobbledegook if you don’t know how golf is played, scored, or won. For the ignoramii, here’s a quick 101.

Basically, golf is a sport in which players use clubs to hit balls into a series of holes using as few strokes as possible. There are usually 18 holes on a golf course, and each hole has a rating called a ‘par’, which indicates the number of strokes a skilled golfer would need to put the ball into the hole. Strokes are counted starting with the first drive from the tee (the place where the play for the hole starts from) all the way to the final putt on the putting green (the smooth area of short grass surrounding the hole). Holes get a 3, 4 or 5 par rating depending on the distance between tee and hole, and the amount of skill required to putt a ball into the hole. Typically, golf courses include a combination of 3, 4 and 5 par holes, such that the overall ‘par’ of the course is around 70. In other words, a skilled golfer should be able to finish a round of golf, or put the ball into all 18 holes, using no more than 70 strokes.

Now for the scoring itself. Every golfer’s aim is not to exceed the ‘par’ of the hole. Every time he needs one more stroke than the par to put the ball in 4 strokes, say, on a hole with a par of 3, he commits a ‘bogey’. If he takes 5 strokes for the same hole, he commits a ‘double bogey’; if he takes six, he commits a ‘triple bogey’. Bogeys are bad things.

On the other hand, if a golfer uses fewer strokes than the par to put the ball in—let’s say he uses just 4 strokes or ‘one under par’—to complete a 5-par hole, he scores a ‘birdie’. If he uses 3 strokes for the same hole, even better, he scores an ‘eagle’. If he uses just 2, he scores an ‘albatross’ (only 18 golfers in the world ever have managed an albatross)! On a hole with any par—3, 4, or 5—a golfer scores an ‘ace’, or a ‘hole in one’, if he manages to get the ball in the hole with just one stroke from the tee. In short, birdies, eagles, and albatrosses are good things.

How is the winner decided? Each competitor plays his or her round individually, and the competitor who uses the least number of strokes to complete a round of 18 wins. As far as scores go, the number of strokes made on each hole are added up to produce the final score, and the competitor with the LOWEST score wins. In Rio, the format involves each competitor playing four rounds, over four days, with the FINAL aggregate score deciding the winners. This is what makes the winner insanely difficult to predict – you can never tell who is going to have a bad day at the course, and a single bad day can ruin you. That’s also what makes the game just as interesting to watch over all four days.

Aditi Ashok-Olympic Golf1Cut to our girl Aditi. How has she been doing so far? The Rio Olympic Golf Course has an overall par of 71, and Aditi finished Day 1 at 3-under-par, with 68 points. The lowest score that day was 66, so Aditi was going well. Woohoo! On Day 2, Aditi kept up her good form, ending with 68 again! Now she was in 8th place on the leaderboard, just 4 strokes behind Korea’s Inbee Park, who had a 66-66. On Day 3, yesterday, Aditi had a run of bad luck, and ended with a 79, an 8-above-par, which immediately dropped her to 31st place. It will be difficult now to catch up with the leaders. Inbee Park shot an ‘at par’ 70 yesterday, and the second on the leaderboard, New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, shot an incredible 65, but it will be interesting to watch how Aditi’s Day 4 goes after she tees off around 4 pm IST today.

On her About Me page, Aditi talks about the meaning of her name, explaining that it means ‘boundless’ in Sanskrit. Fly high with the birdies today, boundless girl. We will be watching you.

Roopa Pai(About the author: History buff, computer engineer and writer, Roopa Pai has lived, worked, and travelled in three continents, writing for some of India’s best known publications. She has written over 20 books, which include the 8-part fantasy-adventure series Taranauts for kids, bestseller The Gita for Children and a biography of Chanakya—The Master Statesman for adults. She also has an alternate career as a tour guide with BangaloreWalks, a heritage walks and tours company.)

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