The gold should have been his.
Aditi Ashok tees off on the 18th hole at the end of round 4 of the women’s individual golf event at the 19th Asian Games silver Medals, and achievements to become the first Indian woman’s medal at the Asian Games – yet the celebrations were hardly there. A perfunctory handshake with Thailand’s gold medalist Orpichaia Yubol and his caddy and the 25-year-old Indian left wondering what might have been after a disappointing score of 77.
Flashing back a few years to the Tokyo Olympics, Aditi woke up India at 4am wondering what could have been. The Indian golfer, then ranked 200th in the world, raised hopes of a medal in Round 3, but faded on the final day to finish fourth. Although many hearts were won that day, the sentiment was not as generous as history repeated itself at the West Lake International Golf Course in Hangzhou.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course describes itself as a study in contrasts, with 9 holes perfect for golfers of all handicap levels and the other 9 featuring ‘significant elevation changes and a challenging layout for more experienced golfers’. Aditi’s rounds 3 and 4 were also a study in contrasts. Round 4 was quite disappointing, in Round 3, Aditi found the course one for beginners, turning in a stunning 11-under par score of 61, birdie after birdie on nine holes and also sunk an eagle on the 9th hole. Over four days, across twenty golfers (those ranked as high as world No. 13 Xiyu Lin of China), the next best score was a -7-under-par score of 65.
Aditi’s masterclass in Round 3 ensured her gold, and even a team medal hope for India. His total on the final day was 27-under-par and a seven-stroke lead over Orpichaia. Her opponent was ranked 206 in the world – Aditi had moved up to 47 in the last two years.
A large part of his rise in ranking came from an improvement in his driving distance, which was a significant part of why he finished just fourth in Tokyo. A COVID-19 recovery may have exacerbated things then, but that has always been a weakness in his game.
Speaking to LET Golf earlier this year, Aditi admitted as much, saying “Last year I was last in driving distance at the LPGA. [tour]So that put things into perspective, and I said, ‘I’ve got to get better at this’ otherwise I probably won’t be able to finish deep, especially in strong fields.”
It seemed to work, Aditi was now sinking a hole-in-one As recently as September From a par-three hole. And yet, it was a par-three hole that caused his downfall.
Hole 16 had already caused her problems in Round 2, with Aditi having to bogey – her only score of the 54 holes she navigated on the final day. With a water hazard quite close to the green, the temptation to drive into it and aim for birdie sets the sixteenth hole apart. It also caught out veteran Jiu Lin, but 22-year-old Orpichaia played it safe throughout the day – opting to chase par scores and stay away from the water each time.
In Round 4 Aditi already had four bogeys to her name at the sixteenth hole, but still led by a few strokes. The pressure was taking its toll – the memory of his last day in Tokyo probably flashing back and forth like an eerie ticking – and the putts he sunk all day in Round 3 were kissing the cup, coming up short or going past. . Perhaps that’s why she took the risk, but Aditi braced herself to hit the putting green right with a drive from the tee, she could only watch in horror as her drive took a bounce and fell straight into the water.
His golden hope is at the bottom of a narrow lake, his sinking feeling reflected by his golf ball. With a one-stroke penalty later, Aditi’s chip from a rough overshot fell into the hole and she then put the ball in for double bogey. He had two targets when he completed the hole in 5 strokes. A bad day just turned worse.
The only hope for Orpichaia was to choke, but the young Thai golfer held his nerve against his highly rated opponent. A couple of impressive drives and a chip brought him onto the putting green, but the unstable nature of the surface made it a tricky shot. Or so it would seem – a brilliantly measured curved putt straight into the hole, and the Thai golfer had a birdie and went two strokes over Aditi. A superb chip shot onto the putting green saw his ball roll far but the Indian had to settle for par – luck had clearly deserted him.
The final hole was but a formality, and the two men both had par scores to end an absorbing day. Aditi, often a quiet, reserved person on tour, was slightly emotional as her shoulders sagged, her head bowed – the definition of silver pain.
Still, if his driving is anything to go by, you can bet these Round 4 demons will be next on his list, as Aditi drives day after day, drive after drive, chasing gold. some day