Resurgent Indian star Shiv Kapur reckons he is enjoying the ‘third innings’ of his life, and is determined to make the most of it in the coming years.
The 35-year-old Dubai-resident returned to the winner’s circle recently in stunning fashion, shooting an eight-under par 64 in the final round to triumph in the Asian Tour’s Yeangder Heritage on a demanding National Golf Country Club in Chinese Taipei a fortnight ago.
That ended nearly three years of frustration for Kapur, whose last victory came at the European Challenge Tour’s 2013 Grand Final at the now-closed Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai.
With his win in Dubai, Kapur rose to No142 in the world, and it looked like the 2002 Busan Asian Games individual gold medalist was ready to fulfill the promise he showed early in his career. After all, he was a standout star for Purdue University in NCAA in his college days, and quickly followed up his Asiad win by almost qualifying for the 2004 US Open as a 21-year-old amateur (he spent the whole opening round at Shinnecock Hills as the first alternate, but nobody in the field pulled out at the last minute).
And within a year of turning professional, he won the 2005 Volvo Masters of Asia, the elite season-ending championship.
Kapur plied his trade on the European Tour for several years before losing his playing privilege there in 2016. And after getting married to Maya in April, faced a potentially life-threatening situation in August.
While in Bulgaria, Kapur developed high fever that refused to subside. He pulled out of European Tour event the week after and was being treated for viral fever. But when six days later he still had high temperature, he decided to somehow make the journey back to India.
It was there that he got the shocking news. There was a tennis ball-size abscess in his liver that needed urgent surgical removal. Kapur was clearly lucky as a few more days and it could have spread to his stomach and developed into septicaemia.
“It was scary all right. I was very lucky I decided to go back to India. Because, in Bulgaria, I was given antibiotics, which was very dangerous for my liver at that stage,” said Kapur as he prepared to participate in this week’s Thailand Open.
“I was in the hospital for a week as the doctors wanted the abscess to reduce in size. After the surgery, they told me to rest for two months. And that was where I made a mistake. I guessed that if I could walk, I could also play golf. I started playing in 10 days and I remember playing my first practice round in Korea, I was so weak and so much in pain, I could barely walk back to the hotel.
“Because I wasn’t strong, my distances with the clubs were all wrong. I started getting into bad habits with my swing – basically my body was trying to protect the injured part. It all deteriorated pretty quickly.
“I am extremely competitive and I just can’t stay in the bed. And I am very passionate about my golf. During my stay in the hospital, I was getting restless, which prompted the decision to come back so soon. Of course, in hindsight, I should not have done that.”
As Kapur puts it, it was the third lease of life he got. In 2003, while studying in America, he suddenly felt one side of his face going numb. Within days, his right side was paralysed. It was diagnosed as Bell’s Palsy, a viral infection, but he also developed a lump in his throat, which could have been cancerous.
“That was even more scary as I was all alone in the US. I did not tell my parents because they would get worried. The only person I informed was my sister. For three weeks I would drive to the hospital and get checks done. Thankfully, it all cleared up, and believe me, I was so relieved, I played the best golf of my life in college after that,” recalls Kapur, who studied business management and finance in Purdue.
“You know, after incidents like these, you start appreciating more what you have got. Health is the most important thing in your life, golf isn’t.
“But as much as you understand that, when you go out on the golf course and do not perform, frustration still sets in. Things have changed in my life. I am married now and I have to think of Maya. We golfers can lead a very self-centred life, but now I have someone else to take care of. There is more balance in my life, and it is going to change some more when we have our first child (due mid-August).”
Kapur worked hard on his game towards the later end of 2016, but wasn’t getting the desired results. Three weeks ago, he played very good golf in the Panasonic Open in Japan, and still missed the cut by one shot. He was left heart-broken.
“I was very upset after that. I traveled to Taiwan thinking I’d play that week in the Yeangder Heritage, and then take a call for the rest of the year. I love my golf, but I also have a knack for business. I was seriously contemplating if I should give up golf and think more on the business front.
“But this game of ours is really funny. It would be wrong to say I lowered my expectations in Taiwan. In fact, I honestly went there with zero expectations. And suddenly, I win the tournament. It has changed everything now.”
There is now a perceptible spring in his step, something that comes naturally with the confidence of a recent win. Kapur is now looking forward to the future with renewed vigour.
“Obviously, winning helps and hopefully this is the start of a great run for me. I want to represent India in the 2020 Olympics. That is the dream goal for me. But I do not want to set other goals. I’d like to get back into the European Tour, and I’d love to play on the PGA Tour. But I will take things as they come,” he added.
“One thing I really want to do is play majors. I have felt the rush and adrenaline of doing well in majors…I have led the Open Championship and I have done well in the US Open. That is something that I want to experience again.”