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Stage set for Hero Challenge at Renaissance Club in Scotland

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Graeme McDowell is a 2010 U.S. Open champion.

North Berwick, Scotland, July 9: The stage was set for the ninth edition of the Hero Challenge, and the second one in 2019, as Renaissance Club readied itself for the event on Tuesday night.

Two Major winners, Justin Thomas and Graeme McDowell alongside defending champion, Matt Kuchar, Tyrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Lucas Bjeregaard will be on view at this fun event, which has now become a regular feature at three of the European Tour events for the last two seasons. The first Hero Challenge this season came at the British Masters and the next one will be at the DP World Tour Championships in Dubai.

One of the reasons many felt that Kuchar started coming to the Scottish Open was to get used to Links conditions and he started that practice in 2017 and it has produced results for him. He was second at the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale and then finished ninth last year. This has also been a superb season for him with one win and two runner-up finishes as he leads the FedExCup standings.

Justin Thomas of USA

Last year he won the Hero Challenge in a magnificent setting at the Edinburgh Castle and now he defends it. Not just that, he also attempts to become the first player to win a Hero Challenge twice.

Thomas has played just three Opens, he was T-53 at the first in 2016 and he missed the cut in 2017 and 2018. So, he is hoping that coming to Scotland can change his fortunes at the Open the following week. Hence the Scottish Open and with it the Hero Challenge, a name he is familiar with having played the Hero World Challenge in Bahamas before.

After a series of edition held at iconic venues ranging from the Edinburgh Castle to Canary Wharf and Princess Dock in Liverpool, the one-hour event returns to the golf course. It will be at the picturesque Par-3 15th hole of the Renaissance Club.

For McDowell, who made it to the Open with a last gap qualification recently, the Hero Challenge and the subsequent Scottish open presents another chance to have a shot at the Open in Links conditions next week. He made it to the Open, which is being held in his backyard in Portrush, and this could be a important two-week for him.

Bjeregaard, who shocked Tiger Woods at the WGC-Matchplay, will hoping the run that took him into Top-50 continues, while Fitzpatrick has always been seen as star of the future, as has been Hatton.

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With dream pairing in his favour, Shubhankar hopes to ‘Open’ campaign

Joy Chakravarty

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India's Shubhankar Sharma during a practice round for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Antrim, Northern Ireland: The week of the Open Championship holds a special significance for Shubhankar Sharma. Not only did he make his first cut in a Major in this tournament, but it also coincides with his birthday almost every year.

This year, Sharma will turn 23 on Sunday, the day when the 148th Open Championship is decided at the hallowed Royal Portrush Golf Club. And he expects the celebrations to be even better than last year, when it fell on the Moving Day of the tournament at Carnoustie.

It’s not been the best of seasons for Sharma so far, and completely pales when compared to 2017-18. He won twice on the European Tour, played all four Majors and became the Asia No. 1. In comparison, a tie for 27th place at the Hero Indian Open has been his best result in 2019 so far.

However, Sharma can sense a change in his fortunes. He may have missed the cut at the Irish Open in the run-up to the Open Championship, but he was happy with his ball-striking there. At the Scottish Open, he needed an 18th hole birdie from 45 feet to make the cut on the number before finishing tied 34th.

“I made a few changes in my swing and I can now feel that it is getting in the groove. I was happy with the way I played in Scotland and I have worked hard over my game in the past few weeks. My coach (Jesse Grewal) is here and I am feeling quite confident going into the fifth Major of my career,” said Sharma on the eve of the tournament.

Sharma has been handed a dream pairing—he goes out on the first two days with the reigning World No. 1 Brooks Koepka and the 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.

“I was very surprised when I saw the grouping, but I am really looking forward to it. Brooks is obviously the World No. 1 and Louis is a former champion. I have played with Brooks before in India (at the 2013 Challenge Tour event in Kensville, Ahmedabad, where they were paired during the final round),” added the World No. 196.

“Obviously, there is going to be a lot of people following and a lot of people watching back home in India. I think it will very exciting and it is always nice to get a draw like that.”

Sharma, then just 16 and making his professional debut, beat Koepka by three shots that day, but the American has made giant strides since then.

Talking about his upcoming 23rd birthday, Sharma said: “Last year was obviously very special as I made my first cut in a Major. Hopefully, we can make it even more special this year on a Sunday.”

Sharma will tee off at 13:04 local time (17:34 IST) on Thursday. On Friday, he will start at 08:03 local time (13:33 IST).

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Amandeep grabs first win of season in Bengaluru

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Bengaluru: Amandeep Drall finally grabbed her first title of the season, and it came after a long wait as she emerged a comfortable four-shot winner in the 10th leg of the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour at the Bangalore Golf Club on Friday. Her last win was in the 11th leg of the 2018 season, which was 16 starts back.

On a day when none of the players broke par at the par-70 layout, Amandeep had two birdies on the second and 16th and three bogeys, while Gaurika Bishnoi, who also shot 71, leapfrogged from tied-sixth to second as the rest faltered.

Gursimar Badwal, the first round co-leader with Amandeep, was expected to provide the strongest challenge but fizzled away with three bogeys on the back nine after a double bogey, bogey and two birdies on the front nine. She finished with a round of four-over 74 and ended third.

Amandeep, whose previous best this season was second at both the second and third legs, has also been at least tied-third on four other occasions. The win this week, therefore, comes as a big relief to the consistent Kapurthala golfer, who is the sixth different winner in 10 events this season.

Amandeep Drall receives the giant cheque from BGC secretary Sunil K. Vasant.

Gaurika Bishnoi showed that she is fast achieving a high level of consistency. Having won twice this season, she finished runner-up for the third time. She has also been third twice.

Afshan Fatima had a roller-coaster of a round with  a double and three bogeys in the first four holes to be five-over after four. She then birdied three times in the next four holes to turn in two-over. On the back nine, she birdied twice on 12th and 17th, but double bogeyed the 18th for a 2-over 72 and a tied-fourth place finish with Sonam Chugh (73) and Ananya Datar (74).

Neha Tripathi (73), Ridhima Dilawari (75) and Gurjot Badwal (75), in her first outing as a professional, were tied-seventh. Gauri Karhade, who was one of the three players to shoot the day’s best score of 71, was tenth.

Gaurika Bishnoi continued to lead the Hero Order of Merit with Rs. 8,61,800, while Neha Tripathi is second with earnings of Rs. 7,69,133 and Amandeep Drall rose to third with Rs. 7,64,333. Gursimar Badwal and Ridhima Dilawari are fifth and sixth.

The next event is the 11th leg of the Hero WPG Tour, which will be played at the Hyderabad Golf Club from August 7.

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SPORTS LOUNGE IMPACT: IOA forms committee to run affairs of ‘unruly’ Indian Golf Union

Shaghil Bilali

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The de-recognition of the IGU will also affect the staging of the European Tour tri-sanctioned Hero Indian Open next year.

New Delhi: After Sports Longue highlighted the Indian Golf Union’s failure to implement the National Sports Development Code 2011 (NSDC) and put its house in order, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) swung into action as it disaffiliated the golf body and formed a five-member governance committee to run the sports and oversee ‘aspects regarding golfers’ participation in the Olympic qualifiers’.

If this was not enough, the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports (MYAS) led by Kiren Rijiju on Thursday also sent a letter to the IGU, informing that it no more enjoyed the government’s recognition.

IOA’s letter, a copy of which is in possession of Sports Lounge, of forming a governance committee came after almost two years it had sent a letter to the IGU about its non-compliance with Sports Code 2011. The IOA had intimated the golf body that it’s recognition was not guaranteed beyond February 2018. However, the IGU managed to evade sanctions through various means but it ultimately faced the wrath of IOA.

The IOA president Dr Narinder Dhruv Batra on Tuesday shot a letter to IGU acting president Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu and honorary secretary Lt. Gen. A.K.S. Chandele, informing him that the IOA is taking the matter of governance of golf in its hands.
“Given the lapses in procedures and timelines, there is void in the leadership and management of golf in India. IGU has failed to resolve the impasse on reform in the last six months. Under the current circumstances, a resolution is not feasible without external supervision on reform of governance,” the letter read.

Batra wrote that after the IGU failed to hold AGM and conduct election, he and Rajiv Mehta, general secretary, IOA, met Antony Scanlon, Executive Director of International Golf Federation (IGF), in May in Australia, where the decision to form a governance committee was taken.

“Dr. Narinder Dhruv Batra, President and Mr. Rajeev Mehta, Secretary General of Indian Olympic Association met Mr. Antony Scanlon, Executive Director of International Golf Federation, on 6 May 2019, at GCCEC, Gold Coast, Australia, to discuss on working together to resolve the situation. It was then agreed that a Golf Governance Committee would be formed to reform governance, liaise with all stakeholders, ensure compliance of norms and helping IGU conduct election,” the letter said.

The IOA letter said the IGU held its last election on October 28, 2016. Term of whose top officials and the council members ended by the end of October 2018.

The letter also ensured that the Indian golfers’ preparations for the Olympics won’t be jeopardised.
“Considering the significance of participation in Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the Committee shall also oversee all aspects with regard to participation of athletes and officials in the Olympic Qualifier competitions/ events during the interim period.”

At present, professional golfers Gaganjeet Bhullar (Rank 48) and Shubhankar Sharma (49) are the highest-ranked Indians in the Olympic rankings, while on the women’s side it is the likes of Aditi Ashok (35) and Diksha Dagar (55). These four players would represent the country if they remain the highest-ranked golfers in the IGF standings before next year’s cut-off date for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The five-member governance committee has Women’s Golf Association of India (WGAI) president Kavita Singh as chairperson, Mukesh

Kumar, Onkar Singh, Vir Srivastava and a nominee of IGF as its members.

The letter further said since the IGU’s AGM last year was challenged in the court and it failed to come up with a solution subsequently, the IOA lost hope on the golf body.

“The IGU had issued letter to conduct election on 15 December, 2018, which was legally challenged and the election was stayed by order of the Alipore District Court, dated 14 December, 2018, in case Misc-79/2018 (West Bengal Golf Society Vs The Indian Golf Union & Ors).

“Given the lapses in procedures and timelines, there is void in the leadership and management of golf in India. IGU has failed to resolve the impasse on reform in the last six months. Under the current circumstances, a resolution is not feasible without external supervision on reform of governance.”

Sports Longue in its reports had highlighted the IGU’s adamant behaviour towards its members and golf clubs, and failure to follow the Sports Code guidelines.
The federation got four unprecedented interim recognition extensions from Sports Ministry before it ultimately got de-recognised last month. Issues like pending court cases, army clubs having voting rights in the AGM and the active army personnel holding top posts in the state and the national federations went against the IGU. The current president of the IGU is also the Vice-Chief of Army staff.

Ministry too writes to IGU

The sports ministry’s derecognition of IGU came into effect from June 30, four days after the federation had requested it to continue recognition citing a Calcutta High Court observation. However, nowhere the Court had said that the ministry was bound by its decision, nor there was any instruction that the de-recognition must be annulled. But if IGU had any hope of a fifth extension, the ministry dashed it on Tuesday.

In his letter, A.K. Singh, under secretary in the Sports Ministry, wrote to IGU director general Maj. Gen. Bibhuti Bhushan (Retd.), “I am directed to refer to your letter dated 26.6.2019 requesting further extension of recognition to Indian Golf Union (IGU). In this regard, it may be recalled that IGU’s interim recognition was extended by the Ministry for the fourth time till 30.06.2019, subject to the conditions as detailed in letter dated 08.03.2019. IGU was also informed vide letter dated 27.06.2019 that the implementation of the court order dated 20th Feb 2019 is an internal matter of IGU and the Government does not interfere in such issues to maintain the autonomy of a National Sports Federation (NSF). It was also conveyed therein that there does not seem to be any hindrance in implementing the above mentioned court order.”

He further wrote, “It has, therefore, been decided that the request for extension of recognition of IGU can only be considered after it complies with the directions as laid down in this Ministry’s letter dated 08.03.2019.”

What golf fraternity can do now

The de-recognition by the ministry and disaffiliation by the IOA is a huge blow to the IGU, which for last two years failed to convince its members to come under the same page. Even though the IOA has formed a committee which will oversee the election process, it will be almost same members from the current IGU set-up, who are likely to be part of future federation. So, for now, the IGU officials should look back, acknowledge their faults, sort out pending court cases and resolve all the issues with its members. The flared egos in the federation have taken them to hit rock bottom. It’s time to keep the disagreements away, work for the unity and take golf to the grassroots.

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