NEW DELHI: Gaurav Ghei was among the first few Indian professional golfers who made a name for themselves on the international stage. Ghei’s name is etched among the pantheon of Indian golfing greats as some of the landmark achievements of his career also happened to be defining moments for Indian golf.
The 51-year-old Gaurav, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour, took a walk down memory lane and relived his career milestones when he spoke to PGTI recently.
Ghei who was India’s No. 1 amateur golfer just a year before he turned professional in 1992, said, “I was never really serious about the game even though I loved the game and always played well as an amateur. I was a finalist at the All India Amateur twice.
“I only started thinking about pursuing golf seriously when I passed out of college and had a choice to join either a residential MBA program which I got into or play professional golf,” added the articulate golfer, who also represented India at various international events as an amateur including the 1990 Beijing Asian Games.
“I was ready to enroll at IMI which was a residential management institute, before I got a brainwave that I wanted to play professional golf. Then Mr. KK Bajoria, who I’ve known for a very long time from the Delhi Golf Club (DGC), knew the founder of that institute and he convinced him to hold my admission for a year.
“I then turned pro in December 1991 and gave myself a year to see if I could play well and make a living out of it. I had a good finish, 10th or 11th, at my debut event in Mhow in January 1992. Thereafter, I played about seven to eight events from till April 1992 and had a top-5 in every event. The last event of the season was the ADDI Cup which I went on to win.
“Then I played three tournaments on the Malaysian Tour. I won the first of those three events, the Desaru Classic in Johor and had impressive finishes in the other two events as well. From then on there was no looking back for me. I thought if I could compete outside India then I have the game to play as a pro,” said Gaurav, who studied at Modern School Barakhamba Road, one of the capital’s most well-known schools.
Ghei’s triumph at the Gadgil Western Masters 1995 was a watershed moment for Indian golf as it was the first time an Indian won on the Asian Tour. The Delhi-based golfer achieved the feat with a sensational chip-in for eagle from 35 yards on the final hole in front of a rapturous home crowd at the DGC and thus edged out compatriot Vijay Kumar.
Ghei recalled the momentous occasion, saying, “Winning the Gadgil Western Masters was the most emotional moment for me in my career. I had been playing well all season and two weeks prior to Gadgil, I had been tied for the lead at the Dubai Creek Open on the last tee and hit my tee shot into the water to make double-bogey and finish fifth.
“After that to come to my home course DGC and win in that fashion in the presence of my family and friends was very special. The victory also had great significance for me for many other reasons. The tournament was one of the most well-attended as lot of people walked the course. Gadgil offered the biggest ever prize money in India till that point. I also knew that it was going to be my last tournament of the year because I was going in for a hernia surgery immediately after that would put me out of action for two to three months.”
In 1996, Gaurav made international headlines when he defeated Colin Montgomerie, World No. 2 at the time, in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at the iconic St. Andrews golf course as India stunned the home team Scotland 2-1 in a best-of-three contest. The other two members of the Indian team were Jeev Milkha Singh and Ali Sher.
Ghei evoked memories of the event, saying, “It was an extremely windy day when we beat the defending champions Scotland. I defeated Monty (Montgomerie) 77 – 78 and then I remember Monty went to the press room and said that he just had a bad day but was still confident that his team was going to win. That’s when the journalists present in the press room pointed out that in fact India had won the encounter as Jeev Milkha Singh had won his playoff against Andrew Coltart after both were tied in regulation play.
“Even though we beat the home team we got so much love and respect and that made the occasion memorable. I remember when we entered the dining room that evening the likes of Nick Price got up and started clapping for us.”
The following year Ghei scripted history at the ‘home of golf’ Scotland once again as he became the first Indian to play at a Major after he qualified for the British Open 1997 that was held at Royal Troon.