Report by Robin Bose from thegolfinghub.com, in India.
Udayan Mane does not care much about the cliché, “I grew up dreaming of the Olympics.” He had an “unreal” wish of featuring in the Ryder Cup though, but not the Olympic Games. “As kids, we engaged in putting competitions to win The Masters, but the Olympics was never on the to-do list,” said the Indian.
But since golf returned to the Games after 112 years at Rio 2016, Mane made an addition to the checklist. The week of the event in Rio, Mane was keyed in, making it a point to tune in for the post-round interviews of Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar in particular to “get a sense of the atmosphere”.
He stepped up by raising his craft several notches and specific work going into fitness. The hours of toil paid off as Mane qualified for Tokyo courtesy of a prolific run on the Professional Golf Tour of India between December 2019 and March 2020 that saw him win thrice in succession and finish second before the virus struck.
But the road to Tokyo had been an arduous one.
With overseas travel an uphill task and tournaments at home after the pandemic hit happening in fits and starts, Mane’s ranking dropped. With time, interest in the Olympic rankings waned too but he kept doing what he was supposed to. Mane won the Delhi NCR Open, the last event on the Professional Golf Tour of India before Lockdown 2 this year, but he was aware that would not suffice. Mails were shot off to the European and Sunshine Tours requesting for spots. The South African Tour responded favourably but by May India was in the red zone, making leaving the shores impossible. Another opportunity was the Asia Pacific Diamond Cup on the Japan Golf Tour, but the 14-day quarantine rule did not make sense.
The angst got deeper when Mane was informed by the Indian Golf Union, the national federation, in June that he did not figure even among the Olympic replacements. Mane ploughed on with his daily schedule but with a tinge of disappointment. But when news broke of Emiliano Grillo’s pull out from the Olympics, which paved his way to join Anirban Lahiri in Tokyo, it was like elixir. Practice at the Poona Club got more structured and with a lot more intent.
The golf course yet to reopen after the second wave in the country, Mane is the lone figure practicing with undivided focus. Initially, when news broke of his qualification, the phone did not stop ringing and that was an irritant. At the risk of seeming impolite, Mane had to switch off as there is a task on hand.
Peace has been restored and its Mane, Rupesh, his caddy on Tour, and fitness trainer Samarth Dwivedi hard at work. A typical day starts at 8am with mobility and conditioning under the watchful eyes of Dwivedi. The 90-minute session at the gym, again out of bounds for everyone else, is followed by breakfast before hitting the golf course around 11am. From then till 6pm, all aspects of the game are covered interspersed by playing nine or 18 holes six days a week.
Notes are also being exchanged between the two Olympic-bound athletes and Rahil Gangjee, their go-to man on what to expect in Japan. Mane has made it a point to have a chat with Gangjee at least once a week so that enough updates are got on the conditions before departure.
After the dismal phase of watching the world pass by, the mood is upbeat and should a medal come India’s way, the Mane household in Pune will have a quiet celebration, quite like the way they embraced his qualification. It was over roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and veggies; a podium finish will call for a more elaborate menu.