Dubai: There was hope the Aditi Ashok effect would inspire the next generation of Indian golfers after her magnificent display at the Tokyo Olympics, but nobody anticipated it to happen in just a matter of weeks.
It has done just that, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect. In fact, Ashok’s fourth place heroics in Japan has played a role in US collegiate star, Aman Gupta, opting to fly the Indian flag despite being born and raised in America.
“I will say her run was a part of it…it was inspiring to see,” said Gupta, who was born in South Carolina but holds an Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card, which enabled him to switch nations.
“My entire family were born in India and I’m actually the first generation that was born in the States. The country has always been very close to my heart and means a great deal to me so when it came up in a conversation with my coach I wanted to pursue it.
“I reached out to the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) and they basically gave me the green light to do it. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to be able to do, I’ve just never really known how to go about it. It’s a no-brainer and means a lot to me and my family.”
His father, Kapil, who is from Amritsar and his Mumbai-born mother, Aradhana, were delighted with their son’s decision to switch allegiances.
“They were really excited,” he said. “My dad was the first person I talked to about it and he was really happy that I had the opportunity to do it, as was my mum. I haven’t had a chance to talk to my grandparents in India yet but I know they will be thrilled to hear the news.
“There have been couple of Indian players who’ve been at an elite level and done some impressive things including Shiv Kapur and Anirban Lahiri but there aren’t that many. I’m in a position where I’m going to be turning pro next year and I’ll have a lot of reach being in the USA which I think will be great for Indian golf.
“I think a lot of people will be really inspired by what I’m doing and hopefully it will promote golf, and sports in general, in India.”
Before turning professional, Gupta has the small matter of the prestigious Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship to potentially look forward to.
The event, which will be held in Dubai for the first time at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, sends out invitations to the leading players from the 42 Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) affiliated organisations.
Each organisation is automatically provided with two positions, which are to be filled by their highest-ranked players from the WAGR with the remainder of the field filled by taking the next highest ranked players with the maximum number of players allowed from any organisation being six.
Gupta is the highest ranked Indian in 73rd position but faces uncertainty on his participation.
“I’ve had talks with the Indian Golf Union and they’ve mainly been about playing in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship,” he said. “
“They told me to speak to WAGR about switching from the USA to India and because of my overseas citizenship it was changed within five minutes of being on the phone. The only issue we have with playing is the fact the cut-off date was August 4.
“We’ve been in discussions to try and make this work and the APGC have said this has happened in the past with other players who have switched after the cut-off date and they haven’t been able to play. But they told me it was slightly different for me as them players were ranked quite low while I’m the highest ranked Indian and would also be one of the highest ranked players in the field which works in my favour.
“With Covid restrictions they will need players to fill the field so hopefully I can grab a spot or receive a special exemption. It’s still being discussed and figured out so I don’t know what the future holds on that but I hope I will be able to play.
“It’s not the end of the world if I can’t and I still have the chance to represent India with everything else going forward.”
If he does make the trip over, Gupta will be able to get plenty of advice from his Oklahoma State teammate and Dubai-born star, Rayhan Thomas, who finished second in the 2018 edition and equalled the World Record for consecutive birdies (9) at Dubai Creek a year earlier while playing on the MENA Tour.
“Rayhan’s one of my really close friends and one of my better friends on the team,” he said. “There’s obviously that connection because we are both Indian but he’s also a great guy who is really fun and uplifting to be around.
I want to play on the PGA Tour and be ranked the No.1 player in the word. I don’t know where I’ll be or how many times I would have won in the next 5-10 years but I see myself being the world’s best at some point
“He’s talked a lot about how he has loved playing for India and how much he enjoyed competing in the Asia-Pacific when he finished runner-up a couple of years ago.
“I know he loves Dubai and because of Covid he hasn’t been able to go home and see his family which has been upsetting for him and taken its toll both mentally and emotionally, just like it would have done for anyone.
“I know he is trying really hard to get an exemption to this year’s event especially with it being held on his home course so I really hope it works out for him because he’s struggled with his game in the last few years and hasn’t played to the level everyone one was accustomed to.
“He may have fallen down the rankings but he’s never given up and always stayed persistent and worked hard. He knows the level of golf he had a few years ago and what he’s going through now is just a hurdle.
“Everyone faces adversity at some point in their life and he’s had a great deal of it lately but it’s been inspiring to see how he’s fought that and never backed down from it. It’s been really cool to see him start to find his game again and hopefully he gets that spot, has an amazing week and gets his career back on track.”
For now, Gupta remains focussed on finishing his amateur career on a high with Player of the Year and a spot on the All-Americans First-Team high on his agenda. But the 22-year-old also has one eye on the future as looks to follow in the footsteps of Oklahoma State alumini, including Rickie Fowler, Victor Hovland, Matthew Wolff and Peter Uihlein, in becoming one of the biggest names on planet golf.
“I always strive to be the best,” he said. “I want to play on the PGA Tour and be ranked the No.1 player in the word. I don’t know where I’ll be or how many times I would have won in the next 5-10 years but I see myself being the world’s best at some point. That’s always been my mentality, I just don’t like being adequate or second best at anything I do. I take pride and joy in what I’m doing and it’s not fun unless you’re the best.”