Karandeep Kochhar wins a timeless classic

The 21-year-old showed maturity beyond his years as he extracted victory on the third playoff hole against Anirban Lahiri to win the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational at the Chandigarh Golf Club

Karandeep Kochhar - PGTI Tour - Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational

The triumph of character is always a treat. Playing with steely nerves, Karandeep Kochhar scripted an epic that will stand the test of time. Indian golf scaled a new peak as a combination of rules officials, some excellent golf on the finishing stretch by Anirban Lahiri and the resilient spirit of Kochhar. The Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational came to a thrilling finish when Kochhar made a birdie on the third playoff hole on Monday. The event remained alive when Lahiri and Kochhar remained even despite playing two playoff holes in dying light on Sunday.

The event came to life late on Sunday, when Kochhar was dealt a contentious penalty by the tournament committee forcing him into a tie with Anirban Lahiri at 11-under through 72 holes. Remarkably, Kochhar worked his way back from a 76 in the opening round, adding scores of 66-67-68 to record his second straight victory.

Manu Gandas and Aman Raj finished tied in third at 10-under. Akshay Sharma and Veer Ahlawat were two behind in T5.

Karandeep was deemed to have caused the ball to move as he was searching for it off the 17th fairway. Karandeep contended that he was searching for the ball in an area and hence should not have been assessed a penalty, as it is provided for under Rule 7.4 of the Rules of Golf.

”I am convinced decision has gone against me as the TC wanted to have a playoff with a player of Lahiri’s stature for their own interests. I will appeal against this via email to R & A, which governs the rules of golf, and will seek an apology from the Tata Steel-PGTI for what they have done to me,” Karandeep told the Times of India, in the heated aftermath of the Sunday penalty.

Anirban Lahiri - PGTI Tour - Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational
Anirban Lahiri – PGTI Tour – Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational

Amidst all the drama on Sunday, Karandeep promised the PGTI Tour that he shall put aside the disappointment of the penalty.  “My chipping, putting and wedge play was top-class today. It’s great to fight my way back into the tournament after a poor start in round one. I feel I got better with each day. I was obviously disappointed about the one-shot penalty I had to incur. But I’ve put it behind me and am looking forward to finishing it well tomorrow.” And he stayed true to the promise on a misty Monday morning in Chandigarh.

Karandeep started the week inspired by the opportunity to play alongside Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar, but got off to a rocky start. He shot a nervy 76 in the opening round, but by the end of the week, he was standing like a rock battling Lahiri for glory. In the end he showed nerves of steel, nailing his approach from the centre of the fairway to about eight feet from the flag. Lahiri matched his junior, settling at a similar distance, just off the green.

Kochhar made his birdie putt and Lahiri was left with the task of matching it to extend the playoff. When he missed marginally, the 21-year-old experienced the elation that was denied him on Sunday. This will remain etched in the young man’s memory, not only winning in front of his family and friends on his home course, but also being able to do it by defeating one of his heroes in Indian golf.

“I got good advice from Jeev Sir last evening who told me to believe in myself no matter what the situation. It means a great deal to me having made such a good comeback after starting with a 76. Winning two events in a row is special and I feel I can continue this winning spree further at the next event in Jamshedpur as I’m playing the best golf of my life right now. Having played 15-under in the last three rounds, I attribute this win to my positive mindset as I trusted my game despite the poor start to the week.

“I went on the range this morning and practiced some drivers and wedges. I knew the flag was easier with water not in play so my focus was on hitting a good drive down the middle to set up a 100 yards full sand wedge approach and then get inside 10 to 15 feet of the pin to put the pressure on Anirban. I managed to execute this strategy well. I feel I always have an edge over most players here at my home course. I’m always confident of scrambling well here even when I’m not playing at my best. So that contributed to my self-belief this week.

“A goal of mine at the start of the year was to win the Order of Merit. I’m now leading the money list so I’m on track to achieve my objective.”

Karandeep Kochhar

Karandeep won his first professional title at the same club just a month ago. But the victory this week should give him much needed impetus to fly higher and seek status on the international circuit, hopefully helping him realise the grand dream of playing on the PGA TOUR.