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Over the top by Meraj Shah: Swing like Nelly


It’s always hard to pick the story of the year, especially for such an eventful time that the past twelve months have been. But, away from the squabbles between world tours, the roster of players signing up for the LIV Golf Tour, new international series on the Asian Tour, Tiger Woods’ comebacks, Anirban Lahiri’s near-win and other notable stories that made headlines in 2022, nothing quite came close to the remarkable resurgence of Nelly Korda.

The plot is exactly the same as you’ve heard and seen before: the protagonist on top of the world gets undone by circumstances beyond her control and then claws her way back against all odds. The human story.

Korda won the 2022 Pelican championship last month. It was the first win of the season and came after a nail-biting final-round battle with the in-form Lexi Thompson. With the win, Korda ended the year as the top-ranked lady golfer in the world for the second year in a row. But that’s about all that 2021 and 2022 had in common for the 24-year-old pro. 2021 was the year of complete domination: Korda won five times including a Major Championship, took home the Olympic gold medal, and rose to the top of the world rankings. In March 2022, Korda was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood clot and underwent surgery that kept her away from the game for three months. Ever since her return Korda has done reasonably well but not by her own benchmark set in 2021. All that changed last month when she ousted Thompson over the final nine holes at the Pelican Championship. An extraordinary young woman, and a fine player, whose golf swing is widely considered the finest on tour by her peers and the male players. At the PNC Championship earlier this month, everyone wanted to watch Korda play. “Let’s face it,” Padraig Harrington said, “I don’t get to see Nelly Korda play in person. I might see it on the TV, but, you know, somebody like Nelly, this is a good week for me to go, I want to see where she’s hitting it, how she’s hitting it.” Team Korda finished fifth in the event.

There’s a reason the family format PNC Championship is scheduled for December. It’s the perfect time for a bit of cheer and a break from the competitive rigours of pro golf, and a time to bond and have fun. As usual, the Tiger and Charlie Woods team was the headlining tag team in the event. And were they fun to watch! If Charlie hogged all the attention at last year’s edition, this year it was Tiger, making yet another comeback after yet another injury, who stole the limelight.

It comes as no surprise, of course, TW has made a habit of coming back stronger every time he takes a break from the game. But this time around Woods looked really really good: comfortably bombing it over 300 yards off the tee, hitting delicate and creative shots around the green, and sinking putts from all over the place. If his body can keep up then Tiger Woods version 2023 is as good, if not better than the top five players in the world. Let’s see how the year goes for him; we can hope to see him participate in the Majors at the very least, and certainly at the Masters Tournament which he won in 2019.

It will be a full field at the Masters 2023. The folks at Augusta delivered a fillip to the LIV Golf league earlier this month when they announced that players from that tourney will be eligible to play in the event. The rise of LIV Golf, and the acrimony between the new tourney with the established premier tours in the world, especially the USPGA Tour took way too much attention in 2022. By now it’s clearly established that LIV Golf is here to stay and there needs to be more cooperation between the pro tours. And with some of the best players in the world including the likes of Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith signing up to play at LIV Golf, it’s incongruous that the Major Tournaments should exclude them from the field.

What a year it was for Cameron Smith. The Australian won the Players’ Championship and the Open Championship in a space of five months and was a shoo-in to become the top-ranked player in the world when he decided to join LIV Golf. Smith’s dramatic finish at the Players’ Championship closed the door on none other than Anirban Lahiri, who contended during the final nine holes of the event. Lahiri’s second-place finish was his career-best on the USPGA Tour and the best ever by an Indian player. Lahiri followed Cameron to greener pastures on the LIV Golf Tour. Hopefully, things will change for these players in 2023, and they’ll be able to regain their world rankings.

On the home front, a new partnership between the PGTI and the DP World Tour—PGA Tour alliance was announced, which, “…includes a commitment to developing golf in India and a pathway for the country’s top players to reach the highest levels of the men’s professional game.” Basically, the top player on the PGTI will get a spot on the DP World Tour, and a few spots in different levels of the qualifiers will be up for grabs. Two new Challenge Tour events have been planned in India and 60 players will get spots in these as well. There’s likely to be a cash infusion for the PGTI too but details of that haven’t been shared. It’s good news for Indian golf, even if it’s motivated by Saudi Golf coming in a big way to support the Asian Tour.

On the Asian Tour, it was deja vu again, watching Gaganjeet Bhullar, win the Indonesian Open, again. Bhullar who won this event on two previous occasions (2013 and 2016) became the first three-time winner of the event. It was Bhullar’s 10th career win on the Asian Tour.

It’s been a while since we saw the likes of Bhullar, Lahiri, Shubhankar Sharma, and other top Indian pros play at home. And that’s because the only event they would make a point of participating in is the Indian Open. Delhi’s winter months are made for golfing, and watching the Open, usually at the Delhi Golf Club, used to be an annual gala that fans really looked forward to. Sadly, like the last two years, the 2022 Indian Open was also cancelled, on account of the pandemic. Let’s hope 2023 brings better tidings. Have a great new year!

Source : Financial Express