Monday, March 23, 2009

Jeev, the best known Indian sportsperson in America

Jeev, the best known Indian sportsperson in America


Ramesh Chander

JEEV MILKHA SINGH is fast becoming the best known contemporary Indian sportsman in America and perhaps, throughout the world too. This weekend he finished 4th in World Golf Championship event. A commendable achievement indeed – considering the best golfers in the world participated in the event! He finished ahead of the best golfer in the world -- Tiger Woods. During the final day of the tournament, which was watched by tens of millions, there was a spotlight on the show, exclusively profiling Jeev.

Though Indians have done great things in cricket recently, it is hardly followed in Americas and much of Europe. Even in countries like New Zealand and South Africa, cricket is dying out – judging by the crowds. (About three quarters of the small crowds there are Indians/Indian-origin people). Golf on the other hand, is widely followed. Many of the golf tournaments in America, regularly beat the ratings of basketball and tennis.

There seems to be some inherent connection between the talents required for cricket and golf (both involve hitting a ball very accurately through great distances). A disproportional number of golfers in the top 100 in world rankings, come from cricket playing countries – Australia, South Africa, and England. Equivalent non-cricket playing countries like France and Germany have hardly any players in the top 100. Similarly, India has two players in the top 100 even though it has zero public golf courses, whereas China, inspite of government effort to make a mark in this sport and building of hundreds of golf courses, has none. (Of course USA, where the sport is very popular and which has enormous facilities is an exception – who knows, if Tiger Woods had taken to cricket, he might have been another Tendulkar). If only the Indian Government starts encouraging the sport more and builds some public golf courses or even driving ranges – where the non-millionaire Indians can go and play, Indians, will surely shine in this sport.

Most of the Indian golfers are self-trained or trained by their parents. Chowrasia, who won the Indian masters last year, was a son of a ‘mali’, who learnt golf by sneaking into the golf course at dark and playing there till the guards chased him out. Even Jeev’s golf swing is “unorthodox” to say the least. If these people were trained properly, they would have achieved much more.

Jeev’s achievements are enormous. Apart from finishing fourth in the World Golf Championship, he won the Asian tour order of merit, the Barclays Singapore Open, (beating many of the top golfers), won two tournaments in Japan and another one in Europe – and all this just in the last year.
The money he earns too is enormous. Last year, some Indian newspapers reported that Jeev has become the first Asian to earn a million dollars in a calendar year. What went unreported is that the million dollars was the money he earned from the “Asian tour”. Jeev also plays in Europe, America and Japan, and his total earnings from golf winnings last year was around $3.5 million!

It is also unfortunate that Indian Press still treats golf as an elite sport and hardly covers this sport. When Jeev finished fourth in the World Championship, more coverage was given to some statement made by Shewag and Sania’s second round exit in a tennis tournament.

Jeev is currently ranked 29th in the world, with lots of potential to move upward as he plays more in America – where even a tenth place finish is awarded more ranking points than winning a tournament in Asia. He is probably one player who can put India on a global sports map, with Sania rapidly fading in the other widely followed sport of tennis

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