India’s flag flies high with Atwal’s PGA Tour win

Arjun Atwal did more than win a golf tournament. He may well
have changed how the sport is regarded in India.

”Undoubtedly the biggest thing to happen to Indian golf,” said
Gaurav Ghei, who in 1997 became the first Indian to qualify for the
British Open. ”An achievement that most of us never even dreamt
of.”

Atwal captured the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., by
one stroke Sunday. He is India’s first PGA Tour winner and the
first Monday qualifier to win on the tour in 24 years.

Atwal, plagued with injuries the last year, finished at 20-under
260 to win by one stroke. He led by three shots entering the final
round.

He made $918,000 – more than double what he previously earned
this year. The victory allows him to play on the PGA Tour for two
years.

The last qualifier to win on the tour was Fred Wadsworth at the
1986 Southern Open. Atwal had to play his way into the Wyndham
after losing his tour card last month because he was too low on the
money list when his medical exemption ran out. He had injured his
shoulders weightlifting.

”I do remember Atwal saying that he wanted to win on the PGA
Tour,” said Ghei, who has three Asian Tour titles since turning
pro in 1991. ”Hats off to him for sticking it out in the U.S. on
his own and doing it. It was a proud moment to see the Indian flag
flying high. I hope this acts as a springboard for the game
here.”

Brandon De Souza, who has organized most of the golf tournaments
in India the past two decades, called it a conquest of the ”last
frontier.”

”Indians had already won on the Asian, European and Japanese
tours, but this is a new high,” De Souza said. ”I hope the
government and sponsors realize the enormity of this achievement
and think beyond cricket.”

Atwal’s long climb extended beyond the golf course. Three years
ago, a driver trying to race him down a street in Orlando Fla.,
died in a crash. Atwal was cleared of wrongdoing, but the yearlong
investigation exacted took a toll.

Gaganjeet Bhullar, a promising 22-year-old player on the Asian
Tour, suspects the face of Indian golf is likely to shift with
Atwal’s victory. He thinks the victory might result in more player
exemptions.

”It could change the careers of Indian golfers and the way we
look at the game,” he said. ”With Indians doing well on other
circuits, it was long overdue and comes as a welcome relief for us.
I saw the match live on television and was thrilled at the way he
managed a par on the last hole.”