'Absolutely no reason why an Indian can't win'


A day before his British Open qualifiers at The Marquess' Course, Woburn on Tuesday, Shiv Kapur was involved in what he calls "a bit of an accident" that left him unsure of participation in the two-round qualification the following day.

"I was in the parking lot when I got hit by a car, and while it wasn't something major, I hurt my back as a result," he says, speaking from home in Delhi, where he intends to spend a week with family before heading out for the Royal Birkdale Golf Club next week. "For a while, I wasn't sure about how I would hold up, and had to take painkillers to get going the next day."

Kapur, who began the year with his world ranking having slipped to as low as 747, says he was as confident leading up to Woburn as he had been in a while, riding on a good run of form across the last three months in particular. He picked up his second Asian Tour title, and the first in 12 years, at the Yeangder Heritage tournament in Taiwan in April and a tied-second at the Thailand Open soon after. His last outing in June at the European Tour BMW International Open in Munich saw him a stroke off the lead after the first round, but none of that mattered as he compensated for four birdies with a bogey and a double-bogey in the first 18 holes at Woburn.

"It felt during the first round that I was just trying to get through. I wound up with 1-under in the first round, and I was frankly quite disappointed with my effort. In the afternoon, I just threw everything into the second round and things went well," he says, of a second round 7-under 65 that included nine birdies. "Maybe it [the injury] was a blessing in disguise? Who knows if it helped me focus on something else at that point of time? I guess it's true what they say, 'Beware of the injured golfer.'"

This will be 35-year-old Kapur's third outing at the only major played outside the US, and he distinctly remembers both previous British Open outings. "In 2006, I was basically a kid at a candy store," he says. "I had just turned a pro back then, and I was just soaking everything up. To be surrounded by all my idols and the people I had grown up watching was an incredible experience. I welcomed it, and I actually played pretty well. I missed a 10-foot putt and missed the cut because of that. I went away in awe of everything thinking, 'This is what you play golf for.' With top players in the world around at the majors, it's a completely different buzz."

Seven years on, Kapur made the cut at Muirfield, after trailing first-round leader Zach Johnson by just two strokes. "I felt more ready. I had been around on the European Tour for about seven-eight seasons. In fact, I still have the book from 2013," he says, remembering a round where he led Tiger Woods as well as eventual champion Phil Mickelson by one shot each.

Kapur has never played at Royal Birkdale, but will leave about a week before the tournament to acclimatise himself to the conditions. "Links courses have a completely different style of golf, because the ground conditions are so different," Kapur says of the only one of golf's four majors played on such courses, characterised by uneven fairways, thick rough, pot bunkers and proximity to the coast. "You might as well chuck the yardage book out of the window. It tests all facets of your game. I want to get used to different times and different winds. I will practise early and I will practise late. The key will be to figure out the winds, and what clubs you need to use."

Indian golfers have done well in recent years at majors -- Jeev Milkha Singh managed a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship in 2008, while Anirban Lahiri was tied-5th at the same event seven years later -- but does Kapur back himself to win India's first major at a tournament where he will be the only Indian?

"If I didn't believe 100 percent that I could win, then I might as well not go," he says. "But I have to respect the competition. I feel majors create a level-playing field, because the top players are under a lot of pressure themselves. That's why the last seven majors have had first-time winners."

One of those last seven major winners was Henrik Stenson, who won Sweden's first major at the British Open in 2016. Can Kapur, now 305th in the world, emulate that feat for India?

"On paper, there's absolutely no reason why an Indian can't win," he says. "If I play the way I did in the qualifier, I know on my day I can beat anybody. The greatest barrier is just the mental one at majors. You have to treat it as just another tournament."