The unstoppable golfer
With six Asian, four European and four Japan Tour titles, Jeev Milkha Singh is India’s most decorated golfer. In a candid chat, Singh, who turns 50 this year, talks about his plans for 2022, eyeing the senior circuit and why he wants to continue playing the game
Last year, many Indian golfers were looking forward to realise their dream of playing in the US Open, one of the world’s most prestigious tournaments and the toughest major to win. But its cancellation in the aftermath of the pandemic left many disappointed. For Jeev Milkha Singh, who has played in the US Open five times, the major holds a special place too.
Of the six Indians who have figured in the US Open (with all of them coming through the qualifiers at least once), Singh had direct exemptions in 2007 and 2009 (as he ranked in the top 50 at the end of the previous years, respectively). He played his first US Open in 2002 after coming through the world-famous qualifiers, participating again in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2016. “For me, the toughest major is the US Open, though the Masters was always a dream like it is for any golfer (he participated in the Masters in 2007). The qualifiers for the US Open are tougher than most events. It takes a lot out of you. I am proud of the three times I came through that route and twice by exemption,” says the ace golfer in a telephonic interview with Financial Express on Sunday.
With six Asian Tour titles, four European Tour titles and four Japan Tour titles, Singh is India’s most decorated golfer. In a run-up to an exhilarating start next year, Singh hopes 2021 will give him time and opportunities to pursue the game in 2022 when he will become the first Indian to tour on the senior major championships, including the European and Japan seniors tours, and the Champions Tour in the US. “This year is crucial for my health and practice since I am preparing to play in the world’s top events in the senior circuit which start in January 2022,” says the veteran golfer.
Singh, who turns 50 this year in December, is eligible for the seniors and, as a result, spends hours on his practice, play and productivity. Extremely cautious of his playoff, he wants to continue playing the game in the later days of his life, calling golf the sport of a lifetime where professionals can earn for long. “Unlike other sports, the best thing about this game is the future prospect and the incredible opportunities to earn a decent prize money even when one is in their 50s. I wish to remain competitive and play for another decade or so. Once I turn 50 this year, I become eligible to compete in the seniors’ circuit and I have already started preparing for it. I try to do quality practice nowadays and play 18 holes. If I used to hit 300-400 balls earlier, nowadays I hit 200-250 balls,” says the Chandigarh-based player.
Talking about the effect of the pandemic-induced lockdown on his game, he says it didn’t deter his relentless playing schedule. He, however, spent a lot of time with family. “This was the first time when I spent time at home, as I was so used to travelling and playing events,” says the most-travelled pro in the world for more than 26 years. “I spent time with my family and worked on my mental and physical well-being, especially fitness and yoga,” he adds.
Singh finds the game to be the safest sport in view of the pandemic, as there is ample social distancing in a natural environment. “Two factors—greenery and a healthy environment—put golf in demand even during the pandemic. In fact, no other sport can maintain social distancing like golf. Plus, it offers a decent stretch to walk and exercise in the company of good friends. The hours one spends in a golf course define the quality of life. We all look for a healthier and sustainable life. Given these times, it is the right sport to play,” says Singh, grabbing a bite of dinner.
Besides his rigorous training schedule and a walk of about 8 km, his daily routine includes yoga for an hour in the morning followed by meditation, exercise and gym before practice. The golfer believes in natural therapy and takes a cocktail made from turmeric, neem, tulsi, moringa and amla powder for a strong immune system to fight viruses and infections.
He finds ample advantages and opportunities in golf for one to fulfill their dreams. “If you are good at the game, you can earn a good living. It depends on how hard you work and what standards you set for yourself. If you want to play in India, Asia or the biggest circuits in America or Europe, it depends on individual strife and willpower to get to the next level. It’s a fantastic game with a lot of talent in the country,” he says, adding that golf in the 70s and 80s was not a popular sport among youngsters.
Easy access to the internet is a great advantage for the younger generation of players today, he believes. “When I was growing up, I didn’t know which muscle I had to work on. I also got injured a lot of times as I was not doing the right exercise. But nowadays, youngsters know what muscles they have to work on to stay fit, what’s good for strength. It’s all on the internet,” he says, remembering the time when his pro career was blighted by injury, especially a nagging shoulder problem.
To play good golf, it’s imperative to be fit, he asserts. “Since the top senior tournaments are competitive, featuring many past champions, I have to be more fit now than I used to be in my earlier games. 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. That’s why I emphasise on fitness. I have to continue working on my body, so that I can play good golf,” says Singh, adding, “I didn’t have the right guidance when I was young, especially with my shoulder injuries. I didn’t know the right exercise and what I was supposed to follow. But today’s generation has special guidance in institutes, clubs, so they know which muscle works in golf swing and can last for years. If I would have worked on muscle, I wouldn’t have been injured that much. Now, I make sure my core is strong enough, as it is important in the game… and especially after 40, when muscles shrink, one has to work on muscle mass, do lightweight training along with working on enough flexibility for the game. All this should last out till a decade.”
Continuing the sporting legacy of his parents—father Milkha Singh, India’s greatest sprinter, and mother Nirmal Kaur, former captain of the Indian women’s volleyball team—Singh has imbibed the practice of good habits. For young players, he advises three things: set high standards, have the goal of winning a major championship, and believe in yourself. “It’s a young sport. If you’re not in your 20s and going after winning big championships, then you can’t win. There’s so much competition in today’s day and age that one needs to start young. Have a goal, set high standards… that’s the only way you can win,” he signs off.
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