On this day eight years ago Jeev Milkha Singh claimed an exceptional victory in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links, Inverness, in brutal weather – the likes of which he had never before experienced playing in a tournament. From his home in Chandigarh, India – where he has been since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic – he talked to Simon Wilson about that special July 15th when, once again in his career, he made history.
Jeev Milkha Singh’s historic victory in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in 2012 was a dream story for the many media gathered there to cover the prestigious event – which was being played at Castle Stuart Golf Links for only the second time.
There were a wealth of great angles and strong story lines to work with, especially when India’s golfing talisman said that while he was waiting in the clubhouse to see if he was going to make it into a play-off: “I was just enjoying a cup of tea and some chocolate cake and watching it on television, and suddenly got excited.”
The cake angle was widely used in most of the coverage and Singh certainly ‘had his cake and ate it’, and enjoyed ‘the icing on the cake’.
But, the win certainly wasn’t a ‘piece of cake’.
For while it was a dream narrative for the press, the victory went beyond Singh’s wildest dreams in the wildest weather he had ever played in.
“Let me tell you, it was one of the toughest days you could have played golf in,” says Singh about the final day.
“It was cold and windy and there was rain. There were all three coming together. I didn’t have any sensation in my hands because it was so cold. At times there was torrential rain, and the wind was blowing right to left at about 30 or 40 mph.
“I remember the rain. After I had put the umbrella down to hit shots it was like somebody was putting a needle in your face.”
The weather was one thing, his position on the leaderboard another.
He started that Sunday five shots off the lead, which was held by Italian Francesco Molinari – the leader after each of the first three days.
Defending champion Luke Donald from England was in the hunt, as was American Phil Mickelson, Germany’s Martin Kaymer, Swede Henrik Stenson, Ireland’s Shane Lowry and many other household names.
The tournament, boasting total prizemoney of €3,136,252 (approx. US$ 3,542,394), was being played a week before The Open and drew a stellar field.
So Singh had his work cut out, but with three European Tour victories, five Asian Tour wins, four Japan Tour successes and two Asian Tour Order of Merit titles already under his belt, his illustrious rivals should have been more prepared with what was about to happen.
The weather had been fine for the first three days but as Singh explains there was a paradigm shift in the elements for the fourth and final round, even though this was summer time.
“On the first hole at Castle Stuart [a 439-yard par-four] for the first three days I hit a three wood or a rescue [off the tee] and then a wedge or a nine iron in. But on that last day I hit a driver and a three iron and that three iron did not go more than 15-feet high and landed about two-feet from the cup. That was an amazing start!” says the Indian star, who was paired with Spaniard Ignacio Garrido at 11.36am – 10 groups and 35 minutes behind the last group consisting of Molinari and Denmark’s Anders Hansen.
He birdied four out of the first six holes, made another birdie on number 10 and then he parred his way in to card a five-under 67 and set a clubhouse lead of 17 under par – a super-human effort in such conditions, especially to not drop a shot.
Says Singh: “By the 13th or 14th hole it was suddenly nice and sunny but still a lot of wind. No rain. On the 16th [a 337-yard par-four] I hit my driver onto the green. And that’s when I looked at the leaderboard, and said ‘man, I’m two short, I might as well eagle this so I can put a score on the board’. But what I do is three putt that hole to make par.”
On the 18th, a majestic and mighty-long par-five measuring 607 yards, he put himself in perfect position to make a four – and really put the cat amongst the pigeons on the leaderboard – but he missed his 12 footer.
“I was interviewed after the round by the media and, like I said to Amritinder [Singh] my coach and Janet [Squire] my caddie, I thought I was going to be one or two short,” says Singh.
“And, I said I am going to go in the lounge, warm myself up, have a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate cake. And Janet went into the locker room to get my bag ready to pack up, but as I am sitting there in the lounge, with my tea and cake, the field came back and I suddenly find I am going in for a playoff!”
That unrelenting wind which had tested Singh so much also played havoc with the leaders – Scotland’s Marc Warren, Swede Alex Noren and Molinari – and he watched them, one by one, as they came up the 18th trying, unsuccessfully, to overtake him.
Home-hero Warren had been well placed to secure a fantastic win in front of fiercely patriotic local support and after birdieing 10, 11 and 12 he had a three-shot lead. But he made a double on 15 and then two bogeys. He needed to birdie the last to match Singh but missed a 25 footer.
Said Warren later: “I might need a little help to get to sleep tonight.”
One down, two to go for Singh.
Noren was equally gutted minutes earlier as he had taken a bogey six at the last, where he agonizingly missed a three-foot par putt to draw level with the Indian gentleman sitting in the clubhouse enjoying his tea and cake.
And so it came down to Molinari requiring a closing birdie to win and emulate his brother Edoardo, winner of the title two years before.
But he left himself having to hole a par putt from nine feet to keep his title hopes alive, which he duly made.
“And then I go to the range,” says Singh.
“I hit 10 balls precisely, then straight onto the 18th tee [for the play-off]. I hit a perfect drive down the left-hand side, and a perfect second shot with a three iron to lay up – there is a big swale there and I didn’t want to get into that, as I wouldn’t be able to see the flag so I kept it on the top layer. Then I hit a beautiful punched eight iron which I brought in with the wind to exactly 12 feet. And, I just said make sure you get this to the hole … I got it the hole, it was in the hole.”
The impressive birdie saw him claim the title and become the first Indian to win Scotland’s national Open.
“There was an amazing crowd there and the etiquette of the Scottish fans was amazing,” says Singh.
“It is one of the best wins of my career, it’s the home of golf [Scotland], that’s were golf started and winning the national championship there, coming from India were I never played links golf, in my life, and winning in those conditions, I was very proud of myself and felt really happy.”
In fact, it is arguably his finest win, but as he explains: “My best win would be the Scottish Open, but then there is also the Volvo Masters [in 2006]. It is a close match because both are very good tournaments to win, it is tough to decide which one is really better. Both were so good.”
The victory also secured him a place in the field for the following week’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes – where in only his second appearance at The Open he finished joint 69th, a fine effort after the exertions of Castle Stuart.
The win was also Singh’s fourth victory on the European Tour and moved him ahead of Arjun Atwal [a three-time European Tour winner] making him the most successful Indian golfer in European Tour history – which is still the case today, along with S.S.P. Chawrasia.
And he earned a winner’s cheque for €518,045 (approx. US$585,126) – a significant sum although not as sizeable as his most lucrative win, which was the US$795,500 he received for claiming the 2008 Singapore Open – which virtually assured him of the Asian Tour Order of Merit title.
“I was playing well before the event but I could not get all four rounds together but that week I got everything together. At the end of the day, for every golfer, the most important thing is for the ‘belief system’ to kick in. I don’t know what happened that week but the believe system was so good,” says Singh.
Clearly, Singh’s win in Scotland was a dream come true for him and eight years on that memorable victory in the northernmost city of the United Kingdom is still very clear and present and still tastes as sweet as that clubhouse chocolate cake.