Golf may have fared somewhat better than other sports in the pandemic – the number of rounds has increased in almost every part of the globe – but events have been affected badly.
Even The Open was cancelled in 2020 and the Masters was moved to November that year from its traditional date in April second week.
While professional golf – especially in the U.S. and Europe – managed to make a comeback enveloped in the safety of bio bubbles, competition in most Asia-Pacific countries is yet to see light of the day. The Asian Tour has remained dark since the last tournament in Malaysia on 7 March, 2020 and the PGA Australia faces a similar situation.
In all of this, amateur golf took a severe hit. Barring players who moved to American colleges, there were hardly any events to participate in.
So, when the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) announced that it was going to conduct the 12th edition in Dubai, the sense of elation was palpable.
“I have been lucky to be in the U.S. but for the rest of amateur golfers in the region, this AAC in Dubai is like the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel,” said Thailand’s Puwit Anupansuebsai.
Pakistan’s leading amateur Muhammad Umer Khokhar summed up the sentiments perfectly for players coming from smaller golfing nations for whom the AAC is the highlight of the calendar and one event they look forward to all year.
“Ever since it was announced that the AAC will be back there has been excitement and a new purpose. I knew I would have made it to the team last year and I could not stop thinking of going to Melbourne and playing at Royal Melbourne. It was so disappointing when the event was cancelled last year,” said the 29-year-old from Islamabad.
“For us amateurs, this tournament is the biggest thing we get to play. Even for those who haven’t made the cut, it has given memories for lifetime. We are treated like royalty and the kind of competition we face and the facilities that we are given is extremely motivating to start working harder on our games.”
Khokhar said he tried to deal with the lockdown and the pandemic by trying to become a better golfer, which was a common theme for most players.
Here’s how some of the players handled what we are now calling the ‘Gap Year’…
KEITA NAKAJIMA (JAPAN)
I was very lucky to be invited to play a few events on the Japan Golf Tour. I got to play three tournaments in 2020 and seven this year. Playing against the professionals has been a great experience. I have learned so much from them and I definitely think it has made me a better player.
HAYDN BARRON (AUSTRALIA)
Last year, I played a few amateur events in Australia, really a couple in Adelaide, but I could not play most events because of the COVID restrictions. I’ve always worked in the West Australian Golf Club pro shop and I kind of got a little bit sick of that. I got talking to the superintendent when they were planning to change a few greens, entered a program and I’ve actually been working as a groundskeeper.
I love that work. I have a better appreciation of the grass and how they maintain golf courses and what not. I think it has helped me a lot with my golf as well. And I like putting up wicked pin positions once in a while and see how other golfers react to it.
SHUBHAM JAGLAN (INDIA)
The first lockdown we had in April last year, I was fine with it at first. But then, when they kept extending it, I was filled with a sense of dread. Golf was everything in my life. I had thought of nothing else but playing the game. And suddenly I literally had nothing to do. It’s one pandemic, what if there are others in the future? And even if we come out of it, what if I get badly injured and never get to play golf again?
That’s when I sat down with my coach, Nonita Lall Qureishi, and we decided to sign up for college golf in the US. I am not sure how life-changing a decision it is but I am enjoying every moment of it, and I am glad I have decided to continue studying instead of turning pro. It would not have happened if not for the pandemic.
RASHID AL EMADI (UAE):
We have been very lucky with the lockdown in the UAE. There was a small period of severe restrictions early last year but we have been able to play golf after that. The clubs have all been open and they have followed the COVID protocols very well.
So, my sister also plays golf, and after a couple of weeks of sitting at home, we decided to put up a net in our backyard and start hitting balls. The plan was going well for a couple of days, and then I hit a shot that went through the net, and into our neighbour’s yard and broke their bird cage. That was the end of our home practice sessions.