Aditi Ashok, the 18-year-old from India who completed an amazing rookie season by finishing tied third in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters Saturday, stands alongside Thai superstar Ariya Jutanugarn as the biggest success stories in women’s professional golf this year.
Jutanugarn enjoyed an outstanding season on the LPGA Tour, winning the Player of the Year honour ahead of world No1 Lydia Ko. She won five tournaments, including the Women’s British Open, improving from 63rd in the world ranking at the beginning of the year to second by the end of 2016.
Ashok, on the other hand, turned professional less than a year ago after winning the final stage of Ladies European Tour Qualifying School. She was ranked 469th at that time, and remarkably not only qualified to represent India at the Rio Olympics, but also won twice on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and secured the Rookie of the Year honour by finishing second in the Order of Merit. Of course, she also qualified for the LPGA Tour by securing a category 17 card by finishing tied-24th in the LPGA Tour Qualifying School last week.
And yet, I’d put Ashok as my No1 for 2016, and there is one simple reason for that – Jutanugarn had the experience of playing one full season on the LPGA Tour in 2015 and is a product of the highly successful system in Thailand that has helped produce many stars in the recent past with support of big corporate backers like Singha.
Ashok not only came out of nowhere, she is successful despite of the system in India.
She showed enough early promise – winning professional tournaments on the Indian domestic tour at age 13 and finishing tied eighth in the Women’s Indian Open (an LET event) as a 14-year-old amateur – but had to be financed by her parents, with very little support back home.
Her qualification for the Olympics was a tribute to good planning and hard work.
Among the many things she had to do, included travelling to Malaysia – on her own money again – and qualifying for the 2015 Sime Darby LPGA as an amateur. That effort (she won the qualifier as well) boosted her confidence as well as her world ranking in professional golf at that time.
Now that she has well and truly made her mark, it is exciting to see how far her remarkable talent can take her.
There are so many things in her game that is worth admiring. She is not the longest off the tee, but more than makes up with a short game that is to die for. Her reading of the greens and her bunker play is exceptional.
Another impressive facet is her attitude on the golf course. Nothing seems to fluster her. On Thursday, she hit her tee shot into the water on the seventh hole of Majlis. And after making a bogey, she was still smiling and talking to her caddie as if she just made a birdie.
Given that the golf courses on the LPGA Tour are slightly longer, as well as the fact that she is almost assured of couple of starts in the majors, Ashok will definitely want to add some yardage to her long game. That would be one of the areas she and her coach Steven Giuliano can work on this off-season.
Ashok has already spoken of her desire to win the Rookie of the Year award on the LPGA Tour next year. Don’t be surprised if she does – turning dreams into reality has become an art form in her hands.