I’ve known Uttam for almost forty years. I can’t emphasize too strongly the important point in bettering my own game watching him drive from the tee. Once he took his stance he was sure of the right line of play, putting his entire mind on hitting that golf ball with the best swing. Talking about swings, on one carefree Wednesday afternoon, which in those days was usually set aside to play golf regularly and leisurely, walking along the course with late Ramesh Bhasin, ex-Managing Director,
Uttam was already a name to reckon with as India’s number one amateur golfer when Ramesh Bhasin recognized his splendid skill and took him under his wing in the year 1985. He not only offered him a job in the Company but marked him out to play in the Merchant Cup Golf Tournament at the RCGC, the most important Corporate Golf event in Eastern India in which every reputed golfer took time off to participate. The rivalry for the Cup between Tata Steel and Magor’s was traditional and the talking point of the tournament. His game so impressed the legendary Russi Mody that he ‘borrowed’ Uttam from TCIL to play for
Tata Steel. Needless to say, Tata Steel won the cup that year! Russi Mody was genuinely fond of Uttam and made it possible for him to participate in the British Amateur Championship at Muirfi eld in Scotland in the year 1990. At that time,Uttam could not have had a bigger fan than me and when opportunity knocked, I grabbed it with both hands to tag along with him and watch him play the tournament. This is a memory I look back on with great fondness even today.
There’s a reason so many motivational speakers use sports as a metaphor for life because there is a connection between a man’s character off the fi eld and his good sportsmanship on it. Uttam had what it takes to
be successful both in real life and on the playing fi eld. He was a tough competitor, had some of the fi nest performances under his belt. He was courageous and persistent. He was honest in his dealings with opponents and unselfi sh in his desire to see all his teammates participate and enjoy the game. This is the reason his friends often wonder why Uttam was unable to reach ultimate glory and the pinnacle of success in his professional career which could easily have been his. What was that component that detracted him from keeping afl oat when it mattered? Perhaps like all golfers he was pretty spoiled, he had never known real struggle, life had been smooth and easy; fate was kind and things came easily. So although the only focus from a young age was to succeed at golf, towards which he had prepared well, perhaps he lacked the kind of relentless devotion needed for the game and stopped short of reaching his full potential or pitching to his maximum ability. It seemed as if the deep desire within, the fire suddenly went out.
Today, as CEO of the PGTI, Uttam has taken a big plunge into administration. Playing at the top level for so many years, he understands the player’s needs and aspiration. He states that his objective is to make the tour grow and better it. He is happy that more youngsters are taking to Golf because he believes that ‘without players there is no tour.’
It was to fully understand the enigmatic Uttam Singh Mundy that I had the following conversation with him. It is a rare opportunity to hear him recollect the highs and lows of his extraordinary career and his
thoughts on the future of the game.
A. Yes, it’s been a long time since I first picked up a club way back in 1980 and won my fi rst club tournament with in a year in 1981 at the Air – force Golf Club, Delhi. The win was a great feeling but the look on my parent’s face was priceless and cannot be described. Also, for me to represent India within 3 years in 1983 at the French Amateur, India vs France, left my parents almost speechless.
Q. I’ve come across golfers who say they have learnt a few things watching you swing. Whom did you admire and what did you learn from him when you first started playing golf?
A. I feel humbled to hear that. There have been quite a few golfers who have motivated me. However, Jack Nicklaus has made an indelible impact on me and watching him play live in Canada in an exhibition match
against Jim Nelford was a high point. I had the opportunity to meet him again at the Masters and I felt like a kid again and had a fan moment. Another person I have consistently followed and admired is Greg
Norman for the way he has carried himself his entire career.
A. I would not have still been associated with the game after 37 years if it was onerous even for one minute. I have loved the game ever since I first picked it up in school and gave up soccer and athletics which was my passion at that time. On the contrary, my love for the game has grown over the years and everything that I have achieved so far has been related to golf. So I live my passion every single day.
A. The pattern of the sport itself is motivating and rewards you in person. You compete with yourself and are driven to improve everyday that you play. I find the game extremely fair and if you put in hard work
and honesty then no one can take away the laurels. The game is like meditation and in spite of the ups and downs you come back each day knowing that it will rejuvenate you tomorrow again.
Q. Most golfers experience a sort of Eureka moment when something suddenly clicks. Have you ever experienced such a moment?
A. Most defi nitely! There have been numerous times when either my swing or my putting was nagging me and I worked really hard for days at end to fix it following a particular drill. And then one fine day it just fell into place and I was just thrilled. I remember struggling with my putting the week before the Honda Siel Championship in 1996 as a professional golfer but then was able to drill my way through certain techniques just in time and went on to win the biggest professional event in the country at that time !
Uttam is the right person for the job. He has the ability to speak well, keep the sponsor happy and deliver the product. PR skills are excellent. The most important thing is that he understands both the sides …
the players and the sponsors as he has been a player himself. The tour has grown since he took over and the future looks bright . All the best to him and am sure he will do good work.
– Jeev Milkha Singh
Uttam was a touring professional golfer and he knows the needs of the PGTI. It is important to have a leader who understands the players and balances them with the sponsors. With golf in India growing in both the
domestic and international fronts, I would say the PGTI is moving in the right direction. US (Uttam) as we fondly call him, is a good friend and a fine gentleman and I have always wished well for him and his work.
– Jyoti Randhawa
A. Well almost, I would say 80 percent mental. The swing once grooved needs to be worked on regularly till it becomes muscle memory. One has to be mentally very strong to pull off the greatest of shots that you are capable of especially under pressure. It’s the mental part of the game that keeps all the negative thoughts out of your head while playing the sport. And of course let’s not discredit the importance of practice.
Q. Is it right to say that golf is all ‘management’; if you can’t manage your game, you can’t play tournament golf? Your view on this!
A. Course management is the most essential part of tournament play. While playing a tournament one needs to keep the temptation of using different clubs at bay and stick to the game plan that one had made for play that day or the week.
Q. Today’s tour players seem to
A. I think we have a great pool of young players who impress me with their technique and mental ability quite often. They are spending a lot of time with their mental and coaches. If a player is blessed with
natural spontaneity and creativity, then no one can take it away from him.
A. I remember my first meeting with a coach at the San Jose State University who asked me a question on the driving range as to what changes I had made in my swing or grip to move the ball in the
ever got and packed up practise immediately and took me around the university campus and offered me a scholarship programme. I guess visualisation is a very important part in getting your swing muscles to respond accordingly.
Q. What sort of things did you routinely compute on every shot?
A. Like any other pro its yardage, wind speed, wind direction and the type of shot to execute.
Q. In your career there may have been days when you were near-perfect. What would you say was a great day of ball striking when you were in your prime?
A. Each day was unique and different as far as ball striking goes, if one hits 14-15 regulations is deemed good. So I guess one always has good and bad days. A good day would be a few under par score as one
always banked on good ball striking and good putting to convert it into a perfect score.
Q. Can you give us one example each which can be termed as a ‘high’, ‘low’ or ‘turn around’ instance in your golfing career?
A. My high point was the Honda Siel Championship 1996 which was my first professional victory after 4 years of pro golf. I was able to repeat the feat by capturing that title again in 1998.In 1992, I had to
undergo a knee surgery due to a tumor and was unable to walk for a few months and the entire process of rehabilitation took almost 6 months. I thought that that was the end of my golfi ng career and I guess that was my lowest point. I felt so good playing the first tournament after surgery and to top it all I finished third which instilled confidence and belief in me. That I guess was a turn-around instance for me.
Q. What ‘life’s lesson’ has the game taught you?
A. Integrity and honesty is what this game teaches a person.
Q. Is it possible for long time golfers to still blossom when in the present scenario, hundreds of players are going at it and young talent coming out every year?
A. Why not? I feel the long- time golfers have an edge over the new ones in terms of their experience and mental tenacity. It’s just a matter of keeping the injuries at bay and keeping oneself healthy and fit.
Q. Would you still call golf a gentleman’s game?
A. Most definitely. There is no room for misbehaviour on the golf course and your honour is at stake as you have to score yourself and call a penalty upon yourself.
Q. Have any of the young crop of golfers made a particular impression on you?
A. There are a number of golfers who I feel have the ability to take it to the next level. There are also a few who are playing on other various tours and I guess it’s just a matter of time that they break into the big league.
Q. What quality according to you do Indian golfers lack when compared to their international counterparts?
A. I feel that our Indian golfers are well rounded in all aspects of the game. They have the talent, ambition and the grit to perform under pressure. We have quite a few golfers who are competing day in and day out on international tours and definitely don’t lack anything! The likes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Anirban Lahiri, SSP Chawrasia, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Jyoti Randhawa, Shiv Kapur, Chirag Kumar, Rahil Ganjee, Arjun
Atwal and many others who have proven themselves time and time again! A whole lot of youngsters are moving up the ladder on the Asian tour which goes to show their ability to compete with the world’s best.
Q. Which is your favourite golf course? Why do you have a particular affinity for it?
A. The Delhi Golf club has been my all time favourite course since I have been playing there since the beginning of my golfing days. This is a tree lined course which demands a certain amount of focus and precision on the tees.
Q. What was the toughest championship course you went up against?
A. For me in India the Royal Calcutta Golf Club has the length and requires precision of a straight hitter. Those days the equipment was not as advanced as it is today and I guess length was a major factor.
Q. Tell us a little about the relationship you shared with your favourite caddie.
A. Wilson had been on my bag for 26 years which is a very long time and I must say we had a great relationship on and off the
course. He still continues working under me in PGTI. Our association currently stands at 34 long years. We have handled the rollercoaster ride in professional golf and shared happiness and sorrow together.
Q. How often do you hit the ball these days?
A. Unfortunately not as much as I would like to. My work with PGTI leaves me with little time to play.
Q. After a long innings, has there ever occurred a sense of regret in connection with the game?
A. I do not have a single regret in connection with the game. I cherish each win and memory with all my heart and am so thankful to golf for giving me a great and eventful life, enough wins to toast and to have a sense of pride for my country and myself. I am honoured that I continue my association with the game and have a chance to provide a platform to budding professionals.
A. Apart from of course making the purse for PGTI richer, I think I would be very happy to see our professional golfers get world ranking points for victories on the tour.
Q. Tell us about the challenges you face as an administrator.
A. We continue to have the support of some great corporates so far and that has enabled us to bring this sport so far ahead. Our president Mr Gautam Thapar is one such great example who has pumped in a huge amount of money over the years. In addition, we have a number of tournaments sponsored by top corporate houses of the country. However more corporate houses are required to come forward and believe that golf can be a great platform for them. Professional golfers play for money and hence the sport needs additional sponsorships.
Q. How will you rate the golfing scene in the Indian context? What are the biggest issues concerning the game in India?
A. We have come a long way where Indian golf is concerned. The number of pro golfers has increased dramatically, the sponsors have upped the prize money, more and more sponsors and corporates are keen to affiliate themselves with the game. We have a whole set of new keen spectators who love watching professional tournaments because they play the game themselves. The clubs are opening doors to new talent and the awareness in the masses has increased dramatically. It looks very positive and the way forward will be much easier for everybody concerned. Even at an amateur level people are excited to be on the golf course and look at the game as a great lifestyle challenge that they want to conquer. I guess the golfi ng scene looks very vibrant to me.
The concerns which need to be tackled with immediate effect are to increase the availability of golf courses and driving ranges, we need to have many more public golf courses where everybody and anybody can go and hit balls. That’s the first step into making this game reach out to the
Q. Where do you see the sport twenty years from now?
A. In twenty years I see a prize purse so lucrative that we have the world wide top players playing on the tour.
Q. As a player, what are the changes you would like to bring about to better the game?
A. After playing pro golf for 17 years, when I joined PGTI and took on the role of an administrator, the idea and focus for us was to have the tour managed primarily by the players as they would be sensitive to
the requirements of the game. Since then in conjunction with our Board, TPC committee etc., we have changed a whole lot of local rules and regulations to accommodate and be fair to each player and sponsor
concerned. We do not tinker around with the rules of golf as we have to be at par with the world tours, but the tour tries to better the playing conditions and make it as pleasant as possible for everybody. I guess this process will be never ending as the system evolves every couple of years and we cannot sit on our past laurels
Q. What according to you is the signifi cance of the Asian Tour?
A. PGTI works very closely with the Asian tour and we have a number of joint sanction events in India and the numbers are increasing over the years. Every tour is signifi cant in its own area. Asian tour provides a great platform for not only all Asian players but also from many other parts of the world. It has signifi cant prize money and carries world ranking points which springboards our Asian players on to the world scene.
Q. A lot of players have a hard time surviving. Do you have a plan to address this problem?
A. I don’t think this is a problem unique to this game. I think this is a universal phenomenon with every sport. Pro golf has become very competitive and it will only become tougher in the coming times as more and more youngsters and talent comes in. Fortunately there are other avenues in golf that one can pursue like Rules offi cial, Golf course management, Coaching etc .
Q. Which one is your pick amongst the 4 Majors and why? What is the defining factor?
A. The Masters is one of my favourite major championships. It is the most sought after in terms of prestige. I have had the pleasure of being at the masters a couple of time and I must say that every time I come back stumped by its ability to be perfect in every way possible.
Q. Tell us about your experience at RIO
A. I had the rare honour and privilege to be an offi cial at the Olympics especially at a time when our two top boys Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia were playing. A very young and talented Aditi Ashok was also part of the contingent which added to the excitement. We held our head high with pride; the feeling cannot be described in words. I had an incomparable opportunity to meet and watch the world’s best golfers play which was a dream come true. I was very fortunate to meet Nick Faldo, Gary among many others. The icing on the cake was to taking time off in the evening to watch Usain Bolt run and win his 100 mtrs. Completely awesome!