Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand and Aditi Ashok of India at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational
Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand and Aditi Ashok of India at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational Image Credit: AFP

Aditi Ashok has the chance to create history for Indian golf as she moved to within 18 holes of becoming the first-ever winner on the LPGA Tour.

At the $2.3 million Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, being played in Midland, Michigan, the 23-year-old from Bengaluru and her 22-year-old partner from Thailand, Pajaree Anannarukarn, were joint leaders at 15-under par following a three-under par third-round on Friday.

The Indo-Thai pair is bogey-free for the tournament after three rounds. Given that two of these three rounds were played in alternate shots format, which is considered one of the toughest scoring formats in the sport, that achievement becomes even more significant.

Ashok and Anannurukarn, who are calling their team ‘The Spice Girls’, made three birdies in Friday’s third round and share the lead with defending champions Cydney Clanton (US) and Jasmine Suwannapura (Thailand).

Anannarukarn and Ashok made birdies on holes 3, 6 and 15, while Clanton and Suwannapura posted their third consecutive round of 65.

If Ashok and Anannurukarn manage to fend off a field packed with superstars, it will be the first win by an Indian at the highest level of women’s professional golf. It will also boost her confidence ahead of the Olympics, for which she qualified for the second straight time.

While India has had one winner on the men’s PGA Tour (Arjun Atwal at 2010 Wyndham Championship), Ashok is only the second woman to qualify for the LPGA after Simi Mehra in the late 1990s.

Ashok is playing her fifth season on the LPGA Tour and her career-best finish is a tie for sixth at the 2018 Volunteers of America Classic. However, she has won three times on the Ladies European Tour, including at the 2016 Indian Open.

“I think it would be amazing, especially because we’ve always had men doing well on international tours but not as many women,” said Ashok when asked what the win would mean back home. “I think it would be amazing for golf in India. But for me, I’ve been trying really hard the last few years and I have learned a lot. So, hopefully, I can put it all together tomorrow.

“I think when I’m playing by myself, obviously, I’m trying my best. But I think having a partner who’s going to hit your next shot, adds pressure.

“But it also makes you a lot sharper because I know I want her to have the easiest shot possible or the easiest putt left. That’s what motivates me to hit it close or hit it in a good spot.”