NEW DELHI: In 11-year-old Shubham Jaglan’s poor Indian village surrounded by sugar cane fields, few had ever heard of golf until recently let alone know someone playing the sport internationally.
But Jaglan has stunned his family and village since picking up a club at the age of just five, winning back-to-back junior titles in the US in 2015 and finishing sixth in a junior international event there.
“In our village, boys were either into wrestling or boxing. Hardly anybody in my family had heard about golf,” said Jaglan, whose father earned 10,000 rupees ($150) a month from farming a small plot of land.
Jaglan’s passion for what remains a rich man’s sport in India started when a US-based golfing enthusiast opened a coaching clinic in his hamlet, not far from the capital New Delhi.
Although the clinic closed three months later because youngsters were more interested in other, traditional Indian sports, Jaglan was hooked and continued practicing his drives in the fields.
For chipping and putting, his father set up an improvised three-hole green in the family garage, while sand piled on top of the roof served as a practice bunker.
“We knew the sport was expensive, the equipment and all,” said his father Jagpal Jaglan, who is now his caddie. “It was a big struggle initially. Everything appeared beyond us.
“But our son was so passionate about this sport that we decided to give it our all,” he said.
Jaglan’s achievements — his handicap is already down to zero, or “scratch” in golfing parlance — now dominate conversation in the quiet village where elders spend the days sipping chai (tea) and smoking hookah on charpoys (traditional furniture) outside their homes.
As Jaglan started competing in local junior tournaments, his talent began to dominate talk among Delhi’s golfing elite.
An intrigued Nonita Lal Qureshi, one of India’s best-known women golfers, travelled to Israna village in Haryana state for a first-hand look at the young player.
“I was really impressed by what I saw. But I wanted to test him further, so I invited him for a nine-hole game in Delhi,” she told Agence France-Presse.
“What I then witnessed just blew me away.
“I told the family they would have to move to Delhi if they wanted their son to become a golfing star.”
For the family of three used to rural village life, it was a huge decision to make.
But the move has been eased by the Golf Foundation, a local sports charity run by former golfer Amit Luthra which helped find them cheap accommodation near the Delhi Golf Club.
The prestigious club has given Jaglan free membership, while a reputed public school has waived his tuition fees.
And his trips to the US to compete at top junior level have also been funded by the same charity.
“Had there been proper facilities back in our village, I think I would have stayed there because that’s my native place, I could get to be with all my friends,” Jaglan said wistfully.
Jaglan, who idolizes Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros, knows he faces huge challenges to compete on the world stage, but says he dreams of one day winning the US Masters.
Only three Indians have ever qualified for the major championship which takes place in April at Augusta: Anirban Lahiri, the current Asian Tour Order of Merit champion who is ranked in the world’s top 50, veteran Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal.
“He is an exceptional talent no doubt,” Qureshi said, throwing a glance at Jaglan as he practised, wearing a pale green jumper with his name embossed on the collar.
“Our job is to keep him grounded,” said Qureshi, who has taken up coaching Jaglan.
“God willing if everything goes well, who knows, we have a star in the making.”