Putting edge against the odds

- July 10, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Golfers Sachin Baisoya and Karan Pratap Singh, title winners at PGTI this year, have had to overcome difficulties to win on the circuit

Sachin Baisoya from Delhi won the Players Championship in February at Tollygunge Club in Kolkata

Champions aren’t spotted in a cape and bodysuit; they easily melt in a crowd as one of us. What sets them apart is their grit to overcome the circumstances that can often overwhelm normal beings.

Sachin Baisoya and Karan Pratap Singh, our protagonists, fit the bill to the hilt. Unassuming to the core and an intense lack of desire to stand out with their mannerisms and attire, the duo, champions on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), would not have been where they are — as first-time winners this season on the nation’s fiercely-fought pro golf arena — had they accepted what life threw at them.

Instead, they chose to create karma. From the dim galleries of a government school in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri to holding the trophy in the hallowed portals of Kolkata’s iconic Tollygunge Club, Sachin’s journey is about persistence and a never-say-die spirit.

Sachin was on the brink of letting go of his dream of playing pro golf. The clerical chores in the school principal’s office were mundane, but his earnings were critical in ensuring the Baisoya family stayed afloat. But the occasional visits to Delhi Golf Club, where father Ravinder works as a caddie, were somewhat of a connect with the sport he longed to embrace.

If fortune favours the brave, Sachin had his moment when senior Delhi Police official Tajender Luthra called Sachin to his office on learning of the eager golfer’s predicament. For a family in need, Sachin was repeatedly told to opt for a better-paying job over golf should a situation arise in the super cop’s chamber when Sachin had to choose.

Properly tutored, Sachin surprised himself by blurting ‘golf’ when Luthra hinted at a better employment opportunity. From the time Sachin stepped out of the Delhi Police Headquarters in 2015, it was a relentless pursuit of excellence on the golf course.

Facing big tests on the tour

Benefactors like Luthra helped Sachin relocate to the place he belonged, but the road to the breakthrough win in February 2023 has been full of pitfalls, testing Sachin’s mettle as an athlete. 

Living out of a suitcase, life on Tour isn’t easy, especially when the putter goes dry and tournament expenses outstrip the earnings. It was to Sachin’s credit that he did not let a dipping bank balance get to him and kept working towards that elusive win.

There were distractions on the way — COVID and fast-multiplying variants threatened to throw him off the rail and so was the motorbike accident soon after that kept him out of action for a significant stretch. Poor form or whenever Sachin felt his focus was wavering, a phase of disengagement kicked in.

“I stop going to the club for practice, golf is not discussed at home or with friends for a couple of days,” says Sachin. He reboots by escaping to the hills or Pushkar, and comes back refreshed. 

With time, the family too has been conditioned by the rigours of the sport, and missing cut (failing to make the prescribed score after two rounds), which drew a sharp rebuke from mother, ‘what do you do at practice?” has been replaced by, “It happens in golf, take a flight and come home.” 

Earnings or the family’s disposition, everything seemed to be favourably aligned the past few seasons for Sachin save that elusive win.

He came close several times but failed to put together four solid rounds to close out a week. Sachin still remembers the cold January morning and the conversation with mentor and senior pro Manav Jaini on the 9th hole of the Peacock Course at the Delhi Golf Club.

The 2023 season was round the corner and Sachin was unhappy with what he felt at practice. “I told Manav sir that my hitting was off and did not feel good going into Tollygunge,” said Sachin.

The two had had similar conversations in the past on the subject, but Manav’s choice of words warmed Sachin in the early morning chill. It wasn’t a long sermon but a short and crisp one-liner that there were no gains without hard work.

Sachin pondered long after they completed the joint practice session. Acting on the “selfless advice” in whatever time he had before the season opener, Sachin vowed not to come back empty handed from Kolkata.

He kept the promise to himself, but more than the trophy and attractive pay cheque of Rs 15 lakh, Sachin returned with lessons that he hopes will lead to many more summits on the golf course.

“The week taught me that golf is all about focusing on the self,” said Sachin. 

Known to throw frequent glances at the leaderboard, especially on the final day, Sachin was oblivious to what transpired beyond the competitors in his group.

Placing a premium on every shot and putt, “as if it is the only chance to pull it off”, is what has set him up as formidable player since the breakthrough. Amid the learnings, there is also realisation that to err is human, but to overcome the shortcomings and prevail is what defines a sportsman.

Injury shapes Karan Pratap Singh

When Karan first felt a twinge in the right knee, he wished it away. In the prime of youth, the golfer from Faridabad, fit as a fiddle, did not contemplate for a moment that something could be wrong. It was January 2021, and Karan was not even 20. When the pain persisted, medical help was sought and MRIs revealed a Grade 2 meniscus tear. The road to recovery was through platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and rest. Instead, rehab exercises were advised. It worked then and Karan got back on Tour. But unknown to him, the condition remained untreated. 

The problem resurfaced towards the end of the year, but with the Tour in full swing, opting out wasn’t an option for the rookie pro. Karan kept playing till the season break with the broken knee. 

Karan Pratap Singh from Faridabad won the Players Championship in April at the Chandigarh Golf Club

Karan could have paused, but with the putter hot and the couple of strong results that ensued, the inclination was to carry on till the April season break in 2022. Karan takes responsibility for the decision, and he could well have continued when the Tour resumed in August but for that fateful fall in the bathroom.

The knock on the tender knee wasn’t the decisive blow Karan needed as it put his career on hold till February 2023. From May to the time he got back on Tour, it was an overpowering battle to stay afloat after surgery, and Karan learnt to take heart from grim scenarios. One source was the numerous visits to the Sports Injury Centre at Safdarjung Hospital. 

“The scenes weren’t pretty with top athletes coming in with injuries far serious than mine (weightlifters and boxers with broken or dislocated arms and shoulders); at least my body was intact and recovery was possible,” said Karan.

An avid Premier League fan, watching top names from “his club” Manchester United and other sides being stretchered off and then their comebacks was another straw he clung on to.

When Karan got back to practice this January, the regret of being away was the last thing on the mind. The urge was to cut loose, but he couldn’t, the knee still had to be tended to. From a state when the knee resembled a walking stick due to the drastic loss of muscle, Karan endeavoured to rearm his skills on the golf course while protecting the tender spot.

A lot more aware of the human body thanks to the hours spent scanning relevant literature during the time away, Karan blazed in his comeback trail, eager to make up for lost time and repose the faith the family had placed in their boy. Especially, elder brother Aakash who stood like a shield whenever negativity threatened to trickle into Karan’s system.

After knocking repeatedly on comeback, the door to glory opened with the breakthrough on PGTI in April. When the final putt rolled in at the Chandigarh Golf Club to signal his coronation, the turbulence he had been through did not play out. Instead, it was about prevailing over a quality field, and looking ahead with optimism. “You start believing that if it can be done once, you can do it again,” said Karan as he awaits the Tour’s restart in August.