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Don’t Look Now But Asia Catching Up With The Big Boys

Few are better placed than Jeev Milkha Singh to look at the game at large at the end of the 2012 season. The 41-year-old Singh, who won this year’s Scottish Open, has had first-hand experience on every tour – including his local Indian circuit – since he turned professional in 1993.
He examines the various money-lists and he marvels at the $11 million accumulated by the youthful Rory McIlroy. At the same time, he is by no means dissatisfied with his own efforts this year. Though he tore ligaments in the index finger of his right hand while winning at Castle Stuart, he has bagged close to $2 million.
Yet, it is hardly surprising that someone in his position sees more than dollar signs.
“To me,” says the son of the legendary Flying Sikh, “it’s not just about the money. It’s the way the game is changing lives. Nowadays, there are opportunities in place for everyone to make good, whatever his background.”
“Just look,” he suggests, “at the Indian caddies. They are playing their way on to the Indian Tour, where they can earn a good living – and many of them are going on from there.
“SSP (Chowrasia),” he continues, “is a case in point. He started out with absolutely nothing but today he’s a two-time winner on the European Tour. He’s learnt English, he’s travelled the world – and all the time he’s catching up on confidence.”
In which connection, it has helped that there are no longer the divisions there used to be in the Indian game. Where once there would be “Caddie-pros” and “Gentlemen pros,” the Indian players of today are all in it together as they fight to top the Indian Order of Merit and graduate to the Asian Tour.
Singh, himself, never knew the kind of poverty that was the lot of a Chowrasia. On the other hand, his father did.
Milkha Singh, who won gold in the 400 metres in the 1958 Commonwealth Games and broke record after record in the heats at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, was born in a mud hut and began his career by – quite literally – running for his life.
There is a film – it is called Bhaag Milkha Baag or Run Milkha Run – due out next summer telling the story of how Singh Snr. had to flee from war-torn Lyallpur, which is now in Pakistan. For 10 days, he wore the same shirt splattered with the blood of his parents as he sprinted for safety before concealing himself amid corpses on a train.
He joined the Indian army – and it was during his army days that he honed his running skills.
On his return from the Rome Olympics, he was given a lucrative role as Director of Sport in the Punjab, while he also turned to golf. It is game to which he introduced his wife, who captained the Indian women’s volleyball team, and then his son. Even now, the three of them will play together, although Mrs Singh, aged 76, is temporarily on the side-lines after shattering her knee in a fall in her garden in Chandigarh.
Jeev was visiting her last week before heading for Japan and an assortment of pre-Christmas events. And never mind that he should be doing, as his mother, in giving his injury time to recovery.
He loves what he does and is patently excited about the progress in his part of the world. Where he believes that the Asian Tour, benefiting as it does from a rich economy, could be on a par with the PGA and European tours in 15 years’ time, his manager thinks it could happen sooner.
Chubby Chandler explains that it is not just down to the money and the fact that the Asian players are the hungriest of them all. Though this does not apply to Singh, who has a method all his own, he points to how they have mostly picked up on the styles of those Europeans who have been playing alongside them in co-sanctioned events.
“European techniques,” adds Chandler by way of a controversial aside, “are way ahead of American techniques. It’s partly because Europeans play on a variety of different courses and partly because they don’t all go to college in the US where the coaching can be a bit iffy.”
Again, as Chandler says, the Asian players have no shortage of good role models, with particular reference to Jeev.
Jeev’s father had a huge influence on him, recognising as he did that his son could all too easily have become one of those comfortably-off professionals who fail to push themselves.
“To develop self-respect,” he would tell him, “you need to be self-made.”
Jeev heeded that message and today passes on his own version to those children who crowd around on his visits home. When they say they want to be like him, he shakes his head.
“No,” he says, sternly, “you don’t want to be like me.
“You want to be better than me.”


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