Shiv Kapur planning to make the most of third lease of life

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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.

Shiv Kapur.

Shiv Kapur.

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.”

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Kim Si-Woo wins Players Championship

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Kim Si-Woo celebrates his win.

South Korean Kim Si-Woo became the youngest winner in Players Championship history, firing a three-under par 69 on Sunday for a three-stroke US PGA Tour victory.

The 75th-ranked prodigy, who has played 120 professional tournaments worldwide, became only the second Asian winner of the event after South Korea’s K.J. Choi in 2011.

The 21-year-old Kim eclipsed the Players age mark set by Adam Scott when the Australian won at age 23 in 2004 at the famed TPC Sawgrass layout in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“I still can’t believe I’m the champion and I’m the youngest champion for this major tournament,” Kim said through a translator. I’m looking forward to working hard from now on.”

Resolute and cool under pressure, Kim used a bogey-free final round to collect his biggest victory by finishing 72 holes on 10-under 278.

Kim, ranked 75th in the world, became only the second non-US player to win twice on the US PGA Tour before age 22, joining last month’s Masters winner, Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

Britain’s Ian Poulter and South African Louis Oosthuizen shared second on 281, Poulter after a closing 71 with “Oosty” firing a 73. American Kyle Stanley and Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain shared fourth on 282.

Kim, the US PGA’s youngest player, won his first tour title last August at Greensboro, but hadn’t managed a top-20 US PGA finish since last October and was in only his second Players, having shared 23rd in 2016.

“Usually I’m very nervous but last year I won one and I got a two-year extension,” Kim said. “So I can hit aggressively and I wasn’t as nervous.”

Now Kim has a five-year spot on the tour and assured spots into many of golf’s top events.

Stanley and countryman J.B. Holmes, who closed with an 84, were 54-hole co-leaders, but Holmes had bogeys on three of the first five holes and Stanley on two of the first four to stumble back.

Oosthuizen sank a four-foot birdie putt at the par-5 second to reach nine-under but found water at the fourth and made double bogey to fall back.

That left Poulter and Kim atop the leaderboard at eight-under, Poulter after a tap-in birdie at the second and five-foot birdie putt at the sixth and Kim after a 17-foot birdie on the opening hole.

Kim sank a 24-foot birdie putt at the par-4 seventh to seize the lead and sank an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-5 ninth to reach 10-under for a two-stroke advantage.

Then Kim parred his way through the back nine, his last putts no longer than four feet on any hole as he calmly ignored winds and tension to prevail.

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Joy of Golf: GolfSixes, a good concept which needs to be perfected

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The jury is out on the inaugural GolfSixes, the two-day, two-man team event introduced last week by the European Tour.

The tournament, won by Denmark, had its fair share of critics, but also received rave reviews as a fantastic effort to introduce a new format to the sport – one that will hopefully catch the fancy of millennials and increase the fan base of the Royal & Ancient game.

Obviously, there were several good things happening at the Centurion Club. I personally loved the way players energised the fans – it created a Ryder Cup-like atmosphere that is difficult to replicate in most other tournaments – and I have become a fan of the shot clock, which was actually reduced from 40 seconds on the first day to 30 for the rest of the tournament.

The entrance made by the players on the first tee, accompanied with loud music, pyrotechnics and waving flags, was amazing to watch on TV, and I am sure it would have been the same for fans on ground.

As for the shot clock, the logistics of using it in a full-field event from tee to green will be difficult to execute, but it is an innovative way of making sure that pace of play is fast. It is one way to answer what seems to be the biggest grudge of most Tour players and serious fans across the globe. However, as with every new thing we experience, there are shortcomings that needs to be addressed.

The first concern would be to find a time and place for such events, because as good as the inaugural GolfSixes was, it cannot become an integral part of a regular Tour.

The first problem I see is how you distribute world ranking points to such events? That is something that concerns more players than how much money is on offer that week.

Another important decision that the Tour needs to make is how much TV coverage to give to such events?

Would major sponsors like DP World and BMW be happy to see an event, worth a couple of million dollars, getting almost half the TV time that they get for putting in excess of $10m? I guess not, unless the Tour can somehow make them stakeholders in the event.

Events like GolfSixes cannot replace the mainstream tournaments, but they definitely can play an important role in popularising the sport going forward.

SOCIAL MEDIA EXEMPTION

So, a much talked about Twitter poll to determine a final sponsor’s exemption spot at the ShopRite Classic on the LPGA Tour has come to an end, with India’s Sharmila Nicollet winning it by a mile.

In the end, 27,652 votes were polled, with Nicollet landing 39 per cent to beat American Blair O’Neal (30 per cent), Scotland’s Carly Booth (25 per cent) and Bolivia’s Susana Benavides (6 per cent).

Not everyone was happy with how the spot was granted, and the biggest complaint was that someone who was more deserving was denied a place in the tournament.

I’d disagree with that. If someone deserves to play in a tournament, he or she would make it through the various categories. The sponsor’s exemption is at the sole discretion of the company putting up the dollars to make the tournament a possibility. A player ranked 150th in the world – surely more ‘deserving’ than the four ladies in question – would never have generated such publicity, if she was given the spot.

The sponsor has the full right to give that spot to anyone they think can add some value to their event. It could be a leading amateur, or a semi-retired major winner, or some big name who not only gets the spot, but also top dollars as appearance fee.

More often than not, the sponsors are arm-twisted by player management companies to give a spot to one of their lesser-known players in return of one of their big stars playing the tournament.

Just the fact that so many people chimed in their opinion, shows the gimmick delivered. There were fans in Europe and India talking about a tournament they perhaps did not even know about.

For a tournament that had only 2,700 followers on Twitter before they started the poll, they got more than 10 times the votes. That is great publicity.

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