It seemed most appropriate on Tuesday that in the build-up to the final event of her phenomenal rookie season, Aditi Ashok was somewhere 38,000 feet up in the sky.
Don’t be surprised if you find the 18-year-old, otherwise a very grounded individual, walking on air as she competes in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week.
What the Bangalore girl has achieved in the past one year, boggles the mind. An amateur this time in 2015, she qualified for the Ladies European Tour by winning the Qualifying School. She then qualified for the Olympics, and even led the tournament, which was stacked with superstars, after 27 holes.
There was no stopping her once she returned from the Olympics. In seven starts since Rio, she has finished inside the top 10 in six, won twice and her worst finish was a tied 46th place at the Fatima Bint Ladies Open.
Ashok got her breakthrough win in her home tournament – the Indian Open – and then backed it up with another win the week after at the Qatar Ladies Open. It elevated her to second in the LET Order of Merit and her earning of E180,415 cannot be surpassed by any other rookie.
The icing on the cake came on Sunday, when less than one year of turning pro, she secured her LPGA Tour card. By finishing tied 24th at the Qualifying School in Daytona Beach, Ashok now has a category 17 exemption for 2017.
The trip back from the US was the reason Ashok wasn’t in town until late Tuesday night.
All the long flights across time zones would be one of the reasons you’d expect her not to be in her best form this week, but Steven Giuliano, the Malaysia-based coach of Ashok, insists that his student likes nothing more to play golf week in and week out.
And while most experts are crediting the experience of playing the Olympics as the reason for Ashok’s recent run of form, Giuliano has a different view.
“I think it’s more a case of having the opportunity to play a longer stretch of events and finding her groove on the course,” said Giuliano.
“The first half of the year, she had to complete her final exams and had not turned 18. The event schedule on LET was quiet until June.
“I feel as she’s been about to play consecutive events in a row on Tour, her confidence has started to build with each week. She has done a great job of tightening up her short game around the greens that has led to some consistent scoring.”
Her short game has just been exceptional. At 233.8 yards off the tee, the slender Ashok lags far behind most players on the Tour, but once on the green, her flat stick has worked like magic. With 28.9 average putts per round, she is fourth in the stat category.
Her putting is also the reason Ashok would fancy her chances this week despite the long travel. In her website, she has a section on courses she has played and that includes a note on the Majlis course. It reads: “The best greens I have played on so far!!”
“She has worked very hard and continues to develop a strong arsenal of shots around the green,” said Giuliano, insisting that they are working hard on her long game as well.
“We regularly review her game stats to highlight areas that may be holding her back and she’s open to learning new shots needed to combat those situations.
“In the off-season, we will focus somewhat on her driving and iron play also and she continues to work with her strength and conditioning coach Nicolas (Cabaret) to stay injury free and build her strength.”
Another former coach of Ashok, the Bangalore-based Tarun Sardesai, oversaw her initial development from junior days until the end of 2012, and says he is not surprised at all by her remarkable rise.
“There are times when you just look at a kid and you know that kid is special. Aditi was very special,” said Sardesai.
“She would keep detailed notes of everything I told her as a 10-year-old, and if I said something to the contrary six months later, she’d be the one to point out.
“Her greatest quality is that she can soak up any instruction given to her like a sponge. And she is absolutely fearless on the golf course.
“I am not surprised at all with the success she has had so early in her career. In fact, I won’t be surprised if she goes on and wins on the LPGA Tour in her first year as well.”
Cheyenne Woods has slowly established her own place in women’s golf, but it was impossible not to swamp the young lady with questions about her uncle, arguably the most famous man in world golf.
Tiger Woods made a stunning return to competitive golf after almost 16 months of injury lay-off, during which he endured his second and third microdiscectomy procedures, last week.
The 14-time major champion finished 15th in the 18-man Hero World Challenge, but showed enough proof that his game was on the right track as he looks forward to playing a full schedule next year.
Cheyenne, a winner on the LET in Australia in 2014, secured her card on the LPGA Tour by finishing 96th on the Money List this year.
She did expect most questions to be centred around Tiger, and was happy to share her thoughts.
“I haven’t spoken to Tiger, but to see his comeback, and everyone was anticipating this week of golf that he just played, and so I was real excited to see him not only on the golf course, but on the golf course playing well,” said the 26-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona.
“That’s the Tiger we’ve all missed. I think everybody was happy to see the fist pumps and see him making birdies and holing out bunker shots, because that’s the Tiger we all remember.
“So, it was really exciting for me to see. Tiger, to me, is the greatest golfer that’s ever played, and the greatest golfer in my lifetime, at least. It was really nice to be able to see him play well again.”
Cheyenne said Tiger playing well also gave her slightly different mind-set going into this week’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.
“I think the thing I get from watching Tiger play, and watching Tiger play well, is just being inspired. Just seeing how hard he’s worked, and you know how hard he’s worked into coming back from his injury and getting back into playing position,” she added.
“I think that inspires a lot of us golfers who grew up watching him play. I know a lot of us out here play golf because of him. So I think, like I said, just inspiration, and you know, it gives a belief that great golf is possible, no matter what you go through.”
Cheyenne is paired with another American, Paige Spiranac, and Wales Amy Boulden. They tee off at 7:55 from the 10th tee.
One tear, and one tweet, at a time, Paige Spiranac is determined to change the world. Golf plays an important role in that process, but it’s not the be all and end all.
A year after making her professional debut in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters last year, the 23-year-old American is back at the tournament. There is no denying the ambitions of Spiranac, and the passion with which she pursues golf, but her invitation last year was more because of her social media skills.
There was criticism of her getting a spot that could have gone to a more ‘deserving’ professional. And as soon as she missed the cut, her social media timelines were filled with several hurtful messages, which unfortunately stood out amongst the many supporting ones.
The messages ranged from telling her she sucked at the game, to accusing her of being promiscuous.
It was a lot more than what the emotional Spiranac could take, who went into depression, gave up on her Twitter and Instagram accounts for some time and even entertained thoughts of giving up the sport she loved.
After wallowing for a few days, Spiranac decided to fight back. She took up the battle on two fronts – one, getting better at golf itself, and two, getting stronger mentally.
She hooked up with swing coach Tyler Hall, and the improvement is discernible. She made the cut at the Scottish Ladies Open on LET, and won a professional feeder tour event in the US. She also started counseling with Dr Nick Molinaro, and it has changed the way she looks at the world now.
The happenings of last year left a deep impression on Spiranac though. Golf is no longer the most important thing in her life – growing the game is, and so is raising awareness about cyber-bullying.
She started an emotional press conference yesterday saying her No1 objective for the week was not to cry. Less than five minutes into the interview, she could not stop the flow of tears.
“I actually don’t remember much of last year. I was so emotional, so stressed out. It was great but it was also, my first pro event, I was so nervous and I was getting a fair amount of negative media attention, too. It was something I wasn’t used to. It has really helped me out a year from now,” said Spiranac.
“I said it was the hardest experience of my life but it made me so much stronger as a person, also as a golfer.
“Right after that, I switched coaches, got a mental coach, and really took my game seriously and want to take it so the next level, and also as a person. I grew up and matured. It also made me realise that golf isn’t the most important thing in my life.
“So this year, I’m really going to work with anti-bullying organisations and focus on cyber-bullying. Everything I endured last year really took a toll on me mentally and I suffered from some depression and anxiety because of all the cruel things people were saying about me.
“Cyberbullying is a huge problem and no one ever discusses it. They never talk about it. It needs to be talked about and needs to be brought to the subject. It’s no longer funny. It’s not the cool thing to do to make fun of other people.
“I want to grow the game and I think that’s the most important thing. So I embrace the media now. I embrace my platform now and use it for good. I do everything I can to bring attention to this tournament for the best players of the world. This tournament deserves that and with Suzann Pettersen and Shanshan Feng and Charley Hull playing; to give them that recognition they deserve is great.
“I think it’s really important. I think people need to see how much it actually does affect me. So it doesn’t matter how I play this week, it really doesn’t. But the fact that I’m here and I’m sharing my story, hopefully can save someone’s life, I think that’s so much more important than if I make the cut or miss the cut.”