Life on the European PGA Tour has not been easy for Shiv Kapur.
For each of the past four seasons, the 28-year-old native of New Delhi, India, has done just enough to keep his playing privileges. He was 116th on the European Order of Merit in 2006, and held that same spot at the end of 2008. Last year, Kapur managed to move up only three spots, to 113th. It made for a rather fitful existence, as he had to worry until the very end each season about his playing status for the following campaign.
If Jerry Seinfeld were writing the script, Shiv Kapur would be Bubble Boy.
But things are different this year. Kapur tied for eighth at the 2010 European Tour opener, the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, and a week later finished second in the South African Open, losing in a playoff to Richie Ramsay. Seven events into the season, Kapur is ranked 32nd on the money list, a far more comfortable position on the Race to Dubai than he has ever known.
“I am not going to relax by any means, but I feel pretty good,” says Kapur, a former academic All-American from Purdue. “I had a good finish last year and then decided to play some early-season events in South Africa in 2010 to see if I could make some money and take off a bit of pressure.”
A first-round 68 in the Dunhill at Leopard Creek led the way to his strong showing there. Then, he shot 13-under par to tie Ramsay for the lead at the end of regulation at the South Africa Open before losing to the former U.S. Amateur champ in a playoff.
To be sure, Kapur would have liked to have won that event, which would have been his first victory on the European Tour. But his strategy worked. He made some early-season money as he also made a quick vault up the money list. And when he came to Morocco in mid-March to play in the Hassan II Trophy, Kapur was able to focus beyond the mere task of keeping his Tour card.
Not surprisingly, Kapur likes where he stands these days, and he plays with the quiet confidence of a golfer increasingly at ease with his game. But he wants plenty more. Like qualifying for the season-ending Dubai World Championship. Then, there is his desire to move eventually to America again, this time to tee it up on the PGA Tour. “That’s the goal,” he says. “But I have to win out here a couple of times before doing that. I’m just not ready to make that leap.”
The youngest of three children, Kapur has already made a lot of leaps in a golf career that started as a young boy following his father around the New Delhi Golf Club – and swatting balls with a cut-down 2-iron. Kapur got good enough fast enough to make the India junior national team when he was 13. “I am pretty patriotic, and it meant a lot to me to put on that team blazer and represent my country,” he says. “It also got me to buckle down as a player.”
He did just that, and by the time he was 17, Kapur had won the national amateur championship of India. Soon after, he captured the Malaysian Amateur Open and also played in the Eisenhower Trophy.
When it came time to consider college, his parents urged him to attend Harvard, where one of his elder sisters had studied. “My father wanted me to be an investment banker, and he talked to the golf coach about my playing there,” he recalls. “But I didn’t think I could get serious about golf at Harvard. And I wanted to at least try to get serious.”
So Kapur enrolled at Purdue, where he says he found a good balance of academics and athletics. “It really showed what I needed to do to be a professional athlete,” he recalls. “College golf in the States was so competitive and the environment at Purdue was very conducive to working hard.”
Kapur ran each day with his teammates at 5:30 a.m., and then went to classes. He spent hours in the gym so he could get stronger and longer and he hit balls on the Purdue practice range when there was snow on the ground. He played college matches against current PGA Tour stars like Hunter Mahan, Camilo Villegas, Luke Donald and J.B. Holmes. “It toughened me up for the European tour, where we play in a lot of rough weather and travel all over the world, every week a different country and a different climate,” he says. “You cannot be soft and do well out here.”
Kapur was six credits short of a degree from Purdue when he turned pro, in 2004. He started on the Indian Tour, and then moved to the Asian circuit, where he won the Volvo Masters of Asia in 2005 and was named Rookie of the Year. After that, he moved to the European Tour.
Now in his fifth full season, Kapur is still looking for his first win there. But these days, he is stalking that in a much better position – and in a much more comfortable manner.
He is Bubble Boy no more.