Oct 17, 2017: The first win came in 2012 at the DLF Masters in a playoff against eight-time Asian Tour winner Jyoti Randhawa. “There was almost a sense of awe when you meet someone like that. At the end of the day, we were competitors. That win only fulfilled my confidence even more.”
Around this time, Ajeetesh began to get country spots to ply his trade further in Asia. The PGTI is allowed country spots every year. This allows nine golfers from India to play on the Asian Tour based on their ranking in the order of merit on the Indian tour.
These spots are subject to re-ranking, which means that after every couple of events there is a shuffle depending on how much money you make as a professional. “This is an avenue that helps you get a foot into the Asian tour, but you have to play well to keep your ranking, possibly your card.”
The jump didn’t intimidate him. Years of playing internationally as a junior had already prepared him for the rigors of competition. At this point, he felt it was his game holding him back a bit. “I felt as if I wasn’t ready entirely yet. That can only just teach you.”
A short lull followed as Sandhu switched things up in his preparation according to close friend and fellow professional from Chandigarh Gurbaaz ‘Bazz’ Maan. “A culmination of many things over six years. What he does today is very different from when he was a junior. The changes have been gradual, one variable at a time.”
Gurbaaz who is director R&D of Falcon 1 Golf, has helped Sandhu with his equipment “pretty much forever.” “His specs have not changed for the last five years now. We just keep an eye on variables.” It was Mann who was the catalyst for the Indo American Professional Golf Tour in the United States (IAPGA), which Ajeetesh was a part of.
The IAPGA borrowed from the Korean model where golfers would go to America in the summer when there is not much happening in Asia. They would find funding from the Korean Americans, live with them and practice there in preparation for the American PGA and Web.com Tour qualifying schools. Given that the Indian diaspora in the States has always been large, they thought it would be worth giving the idea a shot.
In 2016, Sandhu went to Q school on the Japanese Golf Tour, a grueling four stage prospect, adding up to 306 holes. He made it to the final stage earning conditional status.
Maan adds that it was a good decision to play there. “The idea was to give himself a chance to go through qualifying entirely and earn a card. Getting to where he did, made him a lot stronger.”
Speaking about the experience, Sandhu had been to Japan a few times as an amateur. “I fell in love with the country. Jeev thought my game was suited for the tour there – someone who is not very long but consistent.
In the run-up to his first international victory, Sandhu won back-to- back years in Hyderabad (2016 and 2017).
Coming into Taipei, Ajeetesh went 2nd(Take Classic), 3rd(Kensville Open) and MC (Taiwan Masters). “I’ve had a really solid season with lots of chances to win. The missed cut a week before was because of a testing 45 minutes which included a lost ball from the center of the fairway, and some lip-outs. At the back of my mind, I knew the game was good, wanted to keep positives in mind.”
“The final putt was a nerve-wracking moment. I tried to stay in the present as much as I could. My hands were shaking at the time, just wanted to put the ball down and hole it!”
Nearly twenty years have passed since those junior lessons with Grewal. “From a player who was very promising to have gone through a bit of a slump and now come back, he’s going to be up there I hope for some time.”
“Not a lot of people can go to a culturally different country and manage alone. You could call him a part introvert.” So how then did he end up with the nickname “The Agitator”?
“That has to be Baaz Maan’s doing, and I agree is extremely ironical! (Laughs)”
While the Chandigarh boy enjoys mixing music and watching Liverpool play in the English Premier League, he speaks about reassessing his goals. The 29-year old has been playing with house money so far in his career, without a sponsor and hopes that will change now, especially after a $90,000 check to assist him with the travels ahead.
The Indian Tour is in Chandigarh this week. Ajeetesh’s father asked him if he would be teeing it up in his home event. “He said dad I’ve made a commitment to the Challenge tour in Japan, and I’d like to fulfill that.”
It speaks volumes of his character, much like ten-time major winner Annika Sorenstam with whom Ajeetesh shared his birthday with earlier this week. “Oh, I didn’t know that – we have the same initials as well. That’s some good company, I guess!”
It would be hard to disagree.