Aditi Ashok (23) may not yet be a household name or winner on the LPGA Tour. But back home in India, she is a top women’s golfer, a two – time Olympic player and currently a second place finisher in Tokyo. In her first round of the women’s golf tournament at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Ashok retains at number 200 on the same level as that of Nelly Korda at number 1. After firing a four-under-67, one shot from the lead Ashok was tied for second place, with Korda entering Thursday’s second round at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Five years ago, Ashok won it during the Rio Summer Olympics. At the time, the only female golfer representing India had no idea what impact her presence at the Games at home in India would have. Fast forward to today, she knows that attending the Tokyo women’s golf event means more than just gaining more followers on social media and visiting the Olympic Village – it means changing the golf game in India.
Here we go again
In 2016, the then 18-year-old Ashok shot back-to-back opening rounds of 68 at the Olympic Golf Club in Rio. For the first time in 112 years, golf returns to the Olympics and the teenager Ashok makes history as the youngest golfer, male or female, in Rio.
As the only woman to represent Team India in golf, Ashok quickly became a sensation in her homeland. She finished 41st in Rio.
After her first appearance in the Olympics, Ashok joined the LPGA Tour in 2017. This year, Ashok returned to the Games with new goals in mind. But her motivation remains the same.
“Last time I was basically a newcomer,” Ashok said. “I just finished my high school exams and then I was at the Olympics in two months. But this time I definitely think more experience, just to play on the LPGA [Tour] the last five years have been a great way to make you as a player better than I was in Rio.
‘Last time I finished as well as I wanted to, but just the effect it had on golf in India was inspiring, and it motivated me as well.
During her first round on Wednesday in Tokyo, Ashok looked more confident than ever before. Everything seemed to flow. This was her second Olympics. She has been here before, but this time she still feels different. She was no longer alone, this year the Indian Diksha Dagar went with him. And this time she did not just want to go there to play and represent her country. She is going there to receive a medal for India.
‘Last time I thought it was more just to enjoy the experience and to stay in town, to see all the other athletes, but this time I definitely think to have a good finish, hopefully give my best , to win a medal. If you’ve played the Olympics once, you’re definitely more prepared, but you dont be so overwhelmed by it.
Game growth (and numbers on social media)
Looking back, Ashok admits she should have known. But in her first appearance at the Olympics, Ashok had no idea what impact she would have on the game in India. As an 18-year-old, representing India individually in women’s golf, Ashok just went to play there and that is all that is needed.
“Nobody [in India] “I was really focused on women’s golf,” Ashok said. I was just a newcomer. I had just become a professional, so no one expected much from me either. It was definitely amazing, and I think in a good way, because I never thought that the Olympics could affect golf in India so much. It was a good thing to know that it can bring so many more eyeballs to the sport. “
Although golf remained a somewhat unknown sport in India, Ashok helped put it on the map even before stepping into Rio. In 2013, she became the first and only Indian golfer to play the Asian South Games. Then, in 2014, she became the first and only Indian golfer to play the Youth Olympic Games and Asian Games.
‘Nobody really focused on women’s golf, and I was just a newcomer, I just became a pro, and nobody had much expectations of me either. the Olympics could affect golf so much in India. “Knowing that it can bring so many more eyeballs to the sport is a good thing,” Ashok said.
In 2016, after competing in Rio, she finished her rookie year on the Ladies European Tour (LET) with three wins and earned her rookie of the year. At the 2016 Hero Women’s Indian Open, she became the first Indian woman to win a LET title.
After Rio, only when Ashok looks at her various social media accounts does she realize how big an impact she is making as a golfer in India.
“My social media just blew up,” Ashok recalls. “I think a lot of people were trying to figure out what golf is so they could understand how I play and if I had a chance to win a medal. I was not in India then, and I did not. a month back, but even then I think I remembered and recognized myself for the next six months to a year of the Olympics, even though I won three European tournaments after that, people still remember me as the girl who is good “So, I think just knowing that, it’s motivating me this week as well.”
The first thing she thought of when she realized what impact she’s making, thanks to her social media numbers?
‘I think I had about 4500 followers on Twitter and Facebook, and it jumped to 14K overnight …
When it comes to the growth of the game in India, and not just her social media, Ashok stressed the importance of her own personal and professional development in the sport. Since her first appearance, she may have been known to certain people who remember Rio. But she knows she still has to go out, represent and put herself in a position to bring home a medal if she really wants to influence the game.
“I think I’m a little more comfortable now than I was five years ago. I think you realize there are a lot of things you might not really like,” Ashok said. “But it is important that little girls at home have the image of a golfer internationally on the LPGA or at the Olympics, and not only participate, but also fight here and there.”
It was not so long ago when Ashok was one of the little girls in India who wanted to represent women on the golf course.
It was not really planned, but at the age of five, Ashok first experienced what it felt like to touch a golf club. With her father Ashok Gudlamani, who worked in real estate, and her mother, Mash, who was a radio jockey, by her side, Ashok learned how to play golf with her family.
“My parents and I started at the same time. We used to have breakfast in this restaurant overlooking a golf course, and we wanted to drop in and try,” Ashok recalls from her childhood. ‘They gave me like a baby putter, and I started playing golf.
“It was something that got me started. Then I finally learned the whole game. And I think as a kid I could experience junior tournaments with other kids my age, which I never really had to experience in ordinary life. “So just playing competitive sports with kids. My age was very interesting to me, and it got me back on the golf course.”
Ashok said she never felt pressure from her family to play golf. Initially, her parents were not even sure what the sport consisted of, but they became fast, just like Ashok. Although it was just a hobby for them, Ashok’s parents encouraged her to pursue a career out of her newfound passion for golf.
In 2016, Ashok’s father begged for her at her Olympic debut. Five years later, Ashok asked her mother to be on her suitcase.
“Last time my dad was on the bag, so the experience was just so amazing. I wanted to have my mom next time. And I kept that promise,” Ashok said.