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India’s Star Golfer Gaganjeet Bhullar on His Ascent to the High, and Qualifying for LIV Golf Promotions

India’s Star Golfer Gaganjeet Bhullar on His Ascent to the High, and Qualifying for LIV Golf Promotions

Growing up in a small town can be the perfect tonic for stoking the fire in the belly. Gaganjeet Bhullar, India’s top professional golfer on the Asian Tour with 11 career wins, is a case in study.

Born and raised in Kapurthala, a city in the northern Indian state of Punjab, Bhullar was taught by his parents — former athletes in their heydays — to keep glory as the focal point of everything that unfolded on the golf course.

How this got instilled in Bhullar was the way he learnt his golf. The golf course at the Rail Coach Factory was challenging but not the ideal training ground. Living in a Tier 2 city meant Bhullar did not have access to the latest equipment and coaching techniques. But what would have deterred a lot of aspirants, only spurred him on to beat the “big-city” boys in the quest for excellence.

And look how far he has come — on Friday, December 8 2023, he is slated to compete in the LIV Golf Promotions event, carrying a prize purse of USD 1.5 million. The inaugural competition will see some of the world’s best and up-and-coming golfers battling it out at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. It comprises four rounds over three days, including 36 on Sunday, December 10.

Gaganjeet Bhullar
Gaganjeet Bhullar during Round Four of the BNI Indonesia Masters, at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club, Jakarta, Indonesia. (Image: Paul Lakatos/ Asian Tour)

Getting to know Gaganjeet Bhullar and the grit that drives him

As in golf, injuries and poor form have played a part in shaping Bhullar’s persona. But those setbacks, among which is the pain of losing his playing rights on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour), steeled his desire to cement his place as one of Asian Tour’s greats while striving to step up on the global stage all the time.

It is this trait of taking on challenges headlong that will drive the 35-year-old as he readies himself for one more leap of faith. On offer this week is a spot on the lucrative LIV Golf League in 2024, and Bhullar is certain that he is a serious contender in the LIV Golf Promotions.

The task is onerous, given the cream of Asia and beyond is in the fray for the three spots up for grabs in the qualifier, but when Bhullar tees off on Saturday, December 9 — he has a bye into Round 2 — it will be with a lot of momentum as he seeks to join Indian batchmate Anirban Lahiri on LIV Golf, which has challenged the might of the PGA Tour and disrupted a settled world order.

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Gaganjeet Bhullar (Image: Paul Lakatos/ Asian Tour)

His body and mind fresh from the break after a win at the Asian Tour’s BNI Indonesian Masters in mid-November, Bhullar will be drawing heavily from that week at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club — which also signalled his fifth title in Indonesia and fourth wire-to-wire career win.

Early days and challenges

Going into a week as critical as this, it was only appropriate that Bhullar’s latest victory came in Indonesia. The country carries a lot of history for the strapping athlete since his schooling days. “I was a part of the Indian [amateur] squad since I was 14, and we were exposed to a lot of competitions in South and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia), and always came back with a lot of positivity,” he says.

These visits were dissected threadbare by his family upon his return and eventually paved the way for him to play top-notch golf as a professional. In fact, Bhullar’s breakthrough on the Asian Tour came in Indonesia in 2009, and since then he has kept adding to the memories, and the formidable record in this land.

It hasn’t all been smooth-sailing, though. Bhullar faced a dry patch in the lead up to his November victory in Indonesia. Success in golf can be fleeting as a rainbow, and this discouraging period was one that had Bhullar digging deep into his reservoir of grit and experience, including memories of how he overcame a past wrist injury.

“From the start of this year, I was hitting the ball well but the season did not begin well as it was also about getting used to changes in putting, particularly the posture,” says Bhullar, musing on his latest triumph, which comes after his last win on Tour — also in Indonesia last August.

“Work on coping with such phases is completely off the golf course,” he says. “How you’ve been brought up goes a long way in determining your response to hurdles.”

He worked on his form and begin to see improvements after the season break in May. Three consecutive top-5 finishes in August and September were particularly encouraging.

Revisiting his Indonesia win

gaganjeet bhullar LIV golf
Gaganjeet Bhullar of India with the winner’s trophy at the BNI Indonesia Masters held in Jakarta from November 16-19, 2023. (Image: Paul Lakatos/ Asian Tour)

His game at the BNI Indonesian Masters from November 16 to 19 was a masterclass in skill. Bhullar teed off in Jakarta while striking a balance between expectations and reality. It was here that his 17 years on Tour helped immensely. Instead of focusing on the past and what could be, he kept it simple — play good golf, put together four solid rounds and let the rest of the field catch up.

The two-shot lead on Day 1 increased to three the next day, and playing alongside Major winner Patrick Reed of the US played a part in Bhullar stepping up in a big way on Moving Day and increasing the gap to seven strokes.

Familiar with the space he was in, Bhullar reminded himself that the seemingly big cushion could vanish in no time, and it was about managing the expectations and pressure of playing the leader group after a gap.

He drew up a to-do list for Sunday, and at the very top was a basic tenet — play well and go low. He had his eyes on the trophy, but the trained mind and the chastening experience of falling behind in the past prevented Bhullar from getting ahead of himself. The only spot where he kept surging was on the greens.

The birdie-making blitz ensured the competition was firmly quashed, when he stepped on the 18th green with a five-shot lead. “Historically, my short game has been sharp, and stems from the hours put in around the greens in Kapurthala. I’m proud the way my chipping and putting held up under pressure,” he says.

The fickleness of golf

Bhullar is aware that the past will have no bearing on what lies in wait in Abu Dhabi. Despite his years of experience and “mind that knows what to do after a good round or week”, results are not guaranteed, and it is about shutting out the noise after an accomplishment like in Indonesia.

“In 2013, I finished last in the 60-man World Cup of Golf, but the week after won on the Asian Tour in Indonesia; it’s about living in the present as one high doesn’t change anything,” he explains.

Bhullar would have still been in India, spending time with his family and preparing for the Asian Tour’s season-ender Saudi Open in Riyadh in from December 14 to 17. But the win in Jakarta changed a lot for him, and could well prove a watershed moment in his career, with a value much more than the USD 270,000 prize purse he received.

Gaganjeet Bhullar of India celebrating on the 18th green on Sunday, November 19, 2023, after the BNI Indonesia Masters where he emerged victorious. (Image: Paul Lakatos/ Asian Tour)

Case in point: Before the Indonesian Masters, Gaganjeet ranked 44th on the Asian Tour’s International Series order of merit. After his victory, he skyrocketed to 8th place, and qualified as the final name to make the LIV Golf Promotions. He was in for a surprise when informed during the course of the winner’s interview that he had made the coveted qualifier. “That’s golf,” he says with a chuckle.

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Bhullar will need to bring his A-game for the 48 holes in Abu Dhabi, where the final day on Sunday, December 10, requires the players to play 36 holes.

The hallmark of an athlete is to steer clear of complacency, and going with it Bhullar will feel the usual nervous energy when he tees off at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Not forgetting the higher stakes, and chance to step up and rub shoulders with some of the world’s best on the LIV Golf League in the New Year. There’s a lot riding on this upcoming event as it determines whether he is one of the three aspirants to make the grade to LIV Golf., but one thing is for certain: Gaganjeet Bhullar is a name to watch.

(All images: Paul Lakatos/ Asian Tour)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

– Who is Gaganjeet Bhullar?

Gaganjeet Bhullar is India’s top golfer. He currently ranks 8th on the Asian Tour’s International Series order of merit, and recently qualified as the final name to make the LIV Golf Promotions.

– What is LIV Golf Promotions?

LIV Golf Promotions is an inaugural event where elite players worldwide compete to earn one of three coveted spots in the 2024 LIV Golf League, which begins in Mexico from February 2 to 4, 2024. It’s held from December 8 to 10, 2023, at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club and features a USD 1.5 million prize money.

– What is LIV Golf?

LIV Golf is a professional golf tour. “LIV” stands for the Roman numerals 54, which represent the number of holes to be played at LIV events as well as the score if every hole on a par-72 course were birdied. With 48-man fields, no mid-tournament cuts, and massive prize money, the league has attempted to reinvent the format of professional golf. There is a team component too.

Source: Prestige Online

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