AHMEDABAD: It was an eventful start to the year for the TATA Steel PGTI as a much leaner and fitter looking Om Prakash Chouhan of Mhow, a five-time winner on the tour, went on a rampage to produce a course-record equaling nine-under-63 on day one of the Gujarat Open Golf Championship 2021 Presented by Gujarat Tourism.
The 34-year-old Chouhan’s flawless round gave him a handy three-shot lead at the Rs. 30 lakh event being held at the Kalhaar Blues & Greens Golf Club in Ahmedabad. Om Prakash’s 63 equaled Khalin Joshi’s previous course record which the latter had set in 2015.
Twenty-three-year-old rookie Jairaj Singh Sandhu of Chandigarh also hogged the limelight on Tuesday as he made a dream debut on the professional stage with an outstanding 66 that featured another record-equaling feat of three eagles in a round including a hole-in-one. The left-handed Sandhu shared the second spot with Karnal’s Mani Ram.
Jairaj, playing the first ever round of his professional career, sank three eagles to equal the PGTI record previously jointly held by two-time Indian Open champion Ali Sher, Veer Ahlawat and Yashas Chandra MS. Bengaluru’s Khalin Joshi was placed fourth as he shot a 67.
Om Prakash Chouhan struck his driver and irons to perfection as he left himself putts within a range of seven feet on eight of his nine birdies. His longest birdie conversion of the day was a 10-footer on the 13th. Chouhan, who has two top-10s to his name at Kalhaar Blues & Greens, made two excellent par-saves on the 14th and 15th from the trees and the hazard respectively.
Chouhan, who recently lost about 12 kgs of weight thanks to his tough exercise regimen and dieting, said, “I’m feeling much fitter and lighter on the course after having shed so much weight. I’ve been running a lot and controlling my diet. That’s made a big difference to my game. I had also got into a comfort zone during the lockdown and wasn’t practicing much last year but now I’m back to doing eight hours of practice a day.
“My driving and iron-play was the highlight today. It was nice to have five birdies on the trot from the ninth to the 13th. My two amazing par-saves also felt like birdies. In fact, I chipped-in from 40 yards to save par on the 15th. I’ve always played well at this course as I feel it suits my game. The foundation is laid, it’s now about building from here and being consistent.”
Jairaj Singh Sandhu began his pro career with a chip-in for birdie on his very first hole. Just when he thought that it couldn’t get better, he aced the next hole. A bogey followed on the 13th but the 6 foot 2 inch tall Jairaj negated it with his second eagle of the day on the par-5 14th where he holed a 12-footer.
Sandhu added two more birdies on the 15th and 16th before finding the water from an awkward lie on the 18th to drop a double-bogey. Jairaj eagled the par-5 fifth from four feet for his third eagle of the day. He birdied the next hole and closed the round with a bogey on the ninth.
Sandhu said, “I was a touch nervous to begin with but I got rid of the nerves with my birdie on the first. It just kept getting better after that. I began the day thinking that I will just have fun out there. For anyone starting off as a pro it’s important to feel that you belong here. After the round I did feel like I belong to this stage. I’ll again look to enjoy myself over the next three days.
“I decided to turn professional this year as my scoring average had become quite good last year. I also worked a lot on my game and felt that I was ready for the pro ranks. This round is a huge confidence-booster for me.”
Mani Ram attributed his much-improved putting to his score of 66 which featured a 15-feet eagle conversion on the 14th, seven birdies and three bogeys.
Kolkata’s Rahil Gangjee and Delhi-based Arjun Prasad were joint fifth at 68 while local lad Shravan Desai shot a 69 to be bunched in tied seventh along with Chikkarangappa, Rashid Khan, Viraj Madappa, Karandeep Kochhar, Tapy Ghai and Pune-based amateur Rohan Dhole Patil. SSP Chawrasia occupied 14th place with a score of 70.