Jeev Milkha Singh: The grateful golfer

Nitin Sharma
Jeev Milkha Singh has been playing on the PGTI and International circuit for more than 25 years. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

As the conversation veers towards him being the only golfer to have a tournament named after him on the PGTI circuit, 14-time International winner Jeev Milkha Singh is quick to point out with a laugh, “ I am not that old.”

Last year, the Professional Golf Tour of India had introduced the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational Championships on the PGTI circuit, and when Chandigarh Golf Club hosts the second edition of the championship later this week, Singh will be reprising the double role of a host as well as a competitor in the championship.

Singh, who turns 48 in December this year, has been playing on the PGTI and International circuit for more than 25 years, winning six Asian tour titles, four European Tour titles, and four Japan Tour titles.

With 50, the minimum age to play on the senior tour, just two years away, Singh says, “Although I cannot be termed a senior, but I am excited about senior tour too (laughs). As I was born in December, there are little more than two years left for me to play the full Asian Tour or any other tour. My focus has been on staying fit and keeping my muscle memory strong before I start playing the senior tours. I guess that will also be like a new start for me,” shared Singh.

The last two years have seen him finishing in top-20 of an Asian tour event only once with his best finish of this year coming in the Bangabandhu Open in Bangladesh, where he came 43rd.

Singh has played in 14 major championships in his career so far. The Chandigarh golfer last won an international title in the Scottish Open 2012 and his last top-three finish came in the Indonesian Open in 2016, where he came second.

Having missed the cut in the Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational Championship last year, the Chandigarh golfer is eager to play in this year's edition. “I didn't have many good weeks in the last 18 months but I played a little better in Bangladesh. I understand that every day my body is in a different shape. But I am also eager to end on a high note."

"The focus in the next two years will be to win once and to set an example for the youngsters. Normally, people believe that a player's career is over by the age of 42-43 but we have seen the likes of Mukesh Kumar winning apart from players like Fred Couples, who won on the PGA tour in his 40s. I try to do quality practice nowadays and play 18 holes. If I used to hit 300-400 balls earlier, nowadays I hit 100-150 balls,” he further stated.

Singh started his career by playing at Chandigarh Golf Club with his father Milkha Singh and finds the tree-lined 7202 yard-long course a challenging one.

Offering some tips to the golfers competing in this championship, he says, “I guess whatever success I achieved on the international circuit was due to the fact that I grew up playing on this tree-lined course. We had to shape our shots around the trees and use a hook or slice the ball to achieve that. If you don't learn how to shape the ball, you cannot achieve success at the international level. The main challenge at Chandigarh Golf Club is the club selection and good hole management. There are certain holes, where one can play aggressively and there are some holes, where one needs to keep the ball in play. In recent years, the trees have matured and it has become more challenging,” feels Singh.

With his son nine-year-old Harjai Milkha Singh too playing golf, Singh has also been doing the caddying duty for the young golfer. Harjai won the bronze medal in Kids Golf Championship in Malaysia last year with Singh playing the caddie's role. He caddied for him in Scotland this year too.

“Harjai loves golf and also plays football and cricket. As a father, I have never persuaded him to play golf and he trains under my friend Amritinder and Jesse Grewal. I don't want to put any pressure on him till he reaches the age of 12-13 years and tells me that he wants to play golf seriously."

"In Scotland, he wanted to give up after 3-4 holes as conditions were windy. But I told him that he has to finish the round. And he completed it. Sometimes, he is quick in his shots and I have to make him relax. But then he has got his own way and I have got my own. In the end, we reach a compromise and I have to agree to some things as I am his caddie (laughs),” quips Singh.