Diksha Dagar – the Olympics and LPGA Q School are my aspirations this year

Diksha Dagar has raised the bar high with her victory in the South African Women's Open, just her fourth start as a professional. In this exclusive interview, she chats with us about her experiences and looks ahead to 2020

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01 January 2020: At just 18 years and three months, Diksha Dagar followed in the footsteps of Aditi Ashok, taking the mantle of being the youngest Indian to win a title on the Ladies European Tour. Playing against a seasoned field in Johannesburg, Diksha won a one-stroke victory over Lee-Ann Pace with a final round 69. While Esther Henseleit turned out a blockbuster rookie season, winning the order of merit itself, Diksha finished in 14th on the LET rankings for 2019.

In this special feature with Golfing Indian, Diksha speaks about her experiences this season and her dreams for the future. Most importantly, you will read a nuanced, first-hand account of that magical Sunday at the Westlake Golf Club where she came from behind to ambush Pace for her maiden international victory as a professional.

 

Congratulations on a bright season on LET. What are your reflections on the year?

It was a good year, especially winning a LET event in South Africa in the early part of the season. It was a dream start at the beginning of the year as a rookie. Thereafter I got ample opportunities and experience of playing on LET and LPGA events including the Evian Championship, British Ladies Open, Scottish Open and Victoria Open. I feel that I left a few out there and could have done much better, but for a few issues with equipment and my inexperience.

 

Playing a nearly full calendar on the international circuit comes with a demanding schedule and travel. How have you adapted to the rigour?

Yes, it was a very hectic and rigorous year of golf, 30 plus events in 16 different countries were something I never did in 5-6 years of my amateur golfing. I was able to do that because I love the game and have a great passion for it.

Secondly, I was mentally and physical prepared to do what I did through the year before I took the call of turning professional. My father helped me by taking care of most of the travel arrangements. ALPG and LET officials were very supportive and encouraging.

 

How have you seen your game evolve this season? Do you remember particular shots that stood out as brilliant for you?

Talking about my game this year the biggest take home is clearly the experience of playing so many different courses in different countries and weather conditions, most of them for the first time. Also with so many different, quality players from the world over.

So I can say it was big in terms of experience and the feel of the environment of bigger golfing stages. I have also benefited in the aspects of planning and preparations for tournaments, course management aspect is also something I think I have improved upon.

Have also realised the importance of physical fitness for playing the game at the highest competitive levels.

I hit loads of great shots throughout the year, the ones that stand out for me are –

  1. Chip in on the par-5 16th hole for a birdie to tie the scores with the leader at -5 on the final day in Cape Town.
  2. Holed out on the 18th hole at DLF from 110 yards for par after hitting the third shot into the water.
  3. Needed a birdie to move inside the cut line on the long par-4 18th hole during the second round of the Mediterranean Ladies Open in Spain. Hit 3 good shots – driver off the tee, an 8-iron to the flag and made the 6-foot putt to stay the weekend.

Going back to South Africa, please recount the Sunday for us and your experience playing those 18 holes on the way to a memorable victory?

After a successful run of golf in Australia, I had a long flight to South Africa to take the last spot in the field being the first reserve till about 3-4 days to the start of the tournament. Was lucky to make it into the field.

I had an average first-round of +4 in difficult windy conditions but played a flawless 2nd second round of -6 to move up to 2nd place, two shots behind the leader. I was feeling confident and relaxed going into the third round but didn’t think too much about prospects or chances of winning.

At the same time, I was conscious of the fact that there was a possibility. When I started the final round it was kind of playing one shot at a time, the immediate shot as per planning and merit.

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Diksha-Dagar-chips-at-16-South-African-Women’s-Open

The first nine holes were routine disciplined golf from all three players in the leader group. I was connected with my game and score with a couple of missed birdies as well as a couple of good par saves. On the back nine, Lee-Ann moved to -6 under with a birdie on the 11th, 3 shots ahead of me and Esther (Germany, rookie of the year and winner of OOM LET).

Pace made her first mistake on the par-5 13th par5, dropping a shot, while I missed a routine chip & putt birdie chance, little disappointed, I missed a birdie putt on the 14th, about 6-7 feet. Walked off the 14th green to 15th tee, mulling over two missed opportunities little aware of what was to unfold with 4 holes to play and two shots behind the leader.

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Diksha-Dagar-celebrates-chip-in-at-16-South-African-Women’s-Open

Felt pumped up when a birdie putt from 18 feet found the cup on the par-3 15th hole, narrowing the lead to one shot. Esther also birdied on 15th hole to stay with me.

On the 16th, a par-5, even with tough pin position, a birdie was on offer. Both Pace and Esther hit their 3rd shot inside 12feet, while I left it short of the green, from about 90 yards. I had a good look at the green and pin and felt quite relaxed about the impending chip. Everything fell in place for me on the 16th green as the chip shot died in the hole to tie the lead.

With honour on the 175 yards, par-3 17th hole, I hit my 5-iron. The ball rolled to 5 feet from the hole for an upslope birdie putt. Pace missed the green and chipped a couple of inches inside my ball. My birdie

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Diksha-Dagar-Chips-at-18-South-African-Women’s-Open

putt stopped a couple of centimetres short of the hole, while Pace missed her par putt to the right of the hole. 

I had a one-shot lead on 18th tee over the other two in the group. A standard par-4 was playing 30+ yards longer in the headwind. Placed my drive in the centre of the fairway for a 150yds shot to the pin. I struck a 6-iron pin high shot, which rolled a foot off the green to the left. My father on the bag suggested putter from 15-20ft. I felt confident of chipping and did so inside a foot from the hole for a tap in par and win by one stroke. What a feeling it was!!!

 

Please discuss your schedule for 2020? And what are the events you are expecting to play in Asia and Europe?

I foresee a very hectic golfing year ahead. The draft schedules of LET, LETAS and actual schedule of ALPG combine to offer back to back weeks of golf. It will all start with 8 weeks of golf in Australia on similar lines as last year followed by South Africa and an event in Saudi Arabia. Thereafter it would be mostly in Europe and UK with frequent events in Asia and Africa.

LPGA Q School and the Olympics are two objectives on my mind this year.

 

The partnership between LET and LPGA, how excited are you about the opportunities that might bring, opening new doors for golf?

It’s a start, good for women’s golf as is natural “unity is strength”. It means more power, money and opportunity. I am happy to see that happening. For me I know I have to perform to make use of the opportunities and make it count.