Aditi Ashok, whose given name means “Boundless” in Sanskrit, has lived up to her calling by producing some phenomenal golf and is now on the cusp of winning a historic medal for India at Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The 23-year-old finished her third round of the women’s golf event at the Kasumigaseki Country Club with a 3-under 68. With a total score of 12-under 201, Aditi is the sole golfer in the second position and is three strokes behind leader and World No. 1 Nelly Korda of the United States.
Through the end of the third round, Aditi was able to pull two clear of a group of four players, Japan’s Mone Inami, Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark, Australian Hannah Green and New Zealander Lydio Ko, who all share third place on 203 with 18 holes remaining on Saturday.
Since golf made a return to the Olympics in 2016, no Indian golfer, both men or women, have won a medal and Aditi knows fully well what a podium finish would mean for the game in her native country. However, she plans to stick to the proverbial “one shot at a time” routine when she joins Korda for the second successive day in the final group which will include Lydia Ko, the silver medallist in Rio.
“I think one more day of golf and a lot happens on the final day, Although it's just one round, it feels long mentally, so definitely staying patient and hoping we have good weather and hope I play good tomorrow,” Aditi said.
Aditi attracted the world's attention when she made her debut in Rio 2016 as the youngest competitor. She featured in the top-10 in the opening two rounds before finishing 41st.
A medal for India on Saturday could spark a positive change in a country where cricket is No. 1 and treated like a religion. All eyes will be on Aditi during the final round but she is taking the pressure in her stride.
“I think nobody really follows golf as much. And whenever the Olympics comes around, it's always because we had a lot of sports where we were actually really good, like hockey, where we used to win gold medals all the time. I think with golf being in the second time, I think people are a lot more educated and trying to follow it a lot more,” Aditi said.
“For sure (there will be pressure) but I'm not thinking about it that much. I think no matter how do I this week, people have heard about golf and they continue to tune in if they have extended the golf coverage in India because I'm in the top three. I think that's good itself. People seeing golf instead of the other sports, it's always good to get more people aware of the game.”
Aditi's performance at Tokyo 2020 is commendable considering she hasn't regained her full strength since testing positive for COVID-19 in May. The 25-year-old is ranked 59th in driving distances among the 60 golfers – 15 meters shorter than her regular record. She, however, ranks first in Strokes Gained: Putting, picking nine strokes over the field.
“It (COVID-19) took a little bit of strength out of me. I was always short but not like 50 behind Nelly. I think apart from the distance, this year has been kind of the best I've had with my short game, my putting, the rest of my game has been fantastic. I think it's been one of the best years,” she said.
After having her father as her caddie at Rio 2016, Aditi had her mother Maheshwari on caddying duties at Tokyo 2020. “She's doing great. It's funny, this is the best I've played all year. My dad's enjoying watching me on TV and enjoys listening to Bones (Jim McKay) commentate on my game. So that's been cool. My mom has obviously done a great job,” said Aditi.
She has received numerous support from back home, including from PGA TOUR star Anirban Lahiri who tweeted a message of support on Thursday. Irrespective of her finish at the Summer Games, Aditi knows she has helped golf gain more golf fans in India.
“They're like, Oh, the girl did well and that's that (in Rio). But I think within the golfing population it definitely stirred up some interest because a lot more girls are trying to pick it up and either go to college golf or try and play Q-Schools, whether LET or LPGA,” said Aditi, who is a three-time Ladies European Tour winner and the lone Indian golfer on the LPGA Tour.
“A lot of people are trying to figure out golf and top-3 and tied second and they're trying to figure out what would win a medal. And that's all really cool and I think it's really cool that golf is in the Olympics and we have that chance, because otherwise, so many people would never pay attention to golf, let alone men's and women's separately,” she added.
The final round of the women's golf event at Tokyo 2020 Olympics is likely to be rescheduled, given there have been reports of a possible storm hitting Tokyo over the weekend, which is the last two days of the ongoing Olympic Games.
Featured photo: International Golf Federation