19 February, 2019: As the hugely popular Indian cricketers prepare to depart New Zealand, another group of world-class Indian sportsmen are preparing to arrive.
Six of India’s leading golf professionals, Shiv Kapur, Khalin Joshi, Ajeetesh Sandhu, Viraj Madappa, Chikkarangapa S and Rahil Gangjee, have announced their entry into this year’s 100th New Zealand Open, to be played at The Hills and Millbrook Resort in Queenstown from 28th February to 3rd March.
Led by Kapur, one of India’s highest profile golfers, the Indians will be a true force to reckon with when play gets underway at the end of this month.
Kapur has learnt much of what he knows about New Zealand from close friend and Black Cap cricket legend Stephen Fleming, who he will partner in the Pro-Am section of the event: “It is a huge thrill to play in what is one of the oldest National Opens in the world and with the bonus of getting to visit a country I have always dreamed of seeing as a child,” said Kapur.
“Queenstown is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the world and watching the Tournament on TV last year just made that decision easy. All players who have competed in the event previously have praised it. The opportunity to play in a unique Pro-Am event similar to the Dunhill and to experience the great kiwi culture has huge appeal,” he says.
Whilst Kapur calls cricket ‘his first love’ and golf ‘his profession’ Gangjee, on the other hand does not watch cricket but suggested that “all cricket questions must go to Shiv!”. The 41-year old Indian is in the form of his life, having won twice in Asia in 2018, earning him full status on both the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour. Whilst jokingly setting one of his goals as increasing his air miles, Gangjee is excited about his first visit.
Ajeetesh Sandhu is the other serious cricket fan of the contingent and is hoping to partner with one of the cricketing legends like Brendan McCullum, Shane Warne or Ricky Ponting in the Pro-Am. Sandhu competed in New Zealand as an amateur in 2006 and will be travelling with his parents: “The prestige of the Tournament, the world ranking points on offer and a chance to visit beautiful Queenstown make this a trip I’m really looking forward to,” he says.
Khalin Joshi, winner of the Panasonic Open India in 2018, is one of the best young players to come out of India and is already ranked within the world’s top 250: “I’ve never been to New Zealand so thought this would be a good opportunity and with my Dad coming along to caddy for me it’s going to be a special week”.
The 21-year-old Viraj Madappa, one of the brightest stars in Asia, will be seeking his second career win in a country he says has always been on top of the list of places to visit: “Watching some of the holes on TV last year and looking at the photos on social media, I know the country is absolutely stunning. If there is an event in a beautiful venue, you’ll see me there,” he says.
Madappa made headlines in Asia last year when, in his first year as a professional, he won the TAKE Solutions Masters in India. Widely regarded as one of the best young players on the continent, Madappa will be one to watch when the Tournament kicks off.
Chikkarangappa S. is a late entry, having just won a domestic tournament in India two weeks ago. Chikka started out life as a ball boy at a local golf club earning $1 per day whilst learning the game with a half-set of women’s clubs given to him by a club member. The young 25-year old has already climbed to number 357 in the world, rising from number 907 only nine months ago.
Tournament Director Michael Glading is thrilled to have secured six impressive Indian players for the centenary Open: “Last year the Indian Open was scheduled a week after Queenstown, making it tough to get any of these quality players,” he says.
With the help of a schedule change for 2019, Glading set about securing as many of the top Indian players as he could.
“It is well-known throughout Asia that India is a growing force in the world of golf, so these players became a priority. Shiv Kapur is a mega star in India and his early acceptance was a big help in convincing others to follow. We are all very grateful to Stephen Fleming for the sell-job he did too!”.
With the strong combination of youth and experience featured in the Indian contingent, Glading couldn’t be more excited to see what happens once they hit the greens: “They are definitely all coming to make an impact on this Tournament. Spectators must take time to watch Madappa in particular – he really is an impressive player, and one who could well progress to the very top of the game in the years ahead.”