It was always going to be difficult for Aditi Ashok, India's top-ranked woman golfer, to top what had been a phenomenal 2016.
In her first year on the Ladies European Tour (LET), Aditi -- still only 18 -- picked up LET titles in India and Qatar, played her first British Open, fulfilled a four-year-old ambition of representing India at the Olympics, as golf returned after more than a century, and won the LET Rookie of the Year, a title that had previously been claimed by big names in the sport such as Annika Sorenstam, Laura Davies, Karrie Webb and Anna Nordqvist.
"I had four top-10s in a row, which was really good and it hadn't been done before, and I won two tournaments in a row as well. Just as a rookie in general, finishing number two on the [LET] Order of Merit [behind Beth Allen] is pretty good year for any rookie. That year set me up so that I could go and play on the LPGA," says Aditi of gaining partial status on the LPGA, the top level in women's golf, through the qualifying school at the end of the year in Florida.
Building on the confidence from 2016, it was evident to Aditi that the step up to the LPGA was a test of both her skills and temperament. "Firstly, the LPGA is the biggest tour, so the world's best are playing every week, and in that sense the standard of golf is much higher," she says, recounting her lessons from 2017. "Also, on LET, even though I was travelling a lot, I still only played maybe 13 tournaments. But when I had to play on the LPGA, I played almost 20, plus [tournaments on] the LET. So it was almost 25 to 30 weeks of travelling, which was different compared to my previous years. That was one big change."
2017 also took Aditi to all five of the majors in women's golf, and she gave a good account of herself at both the ANA Inspiration (T-42) and the PGA Championship (T-29). The latter came a week after she had shot a 7-under 64 in one of the rounds at the Arkansas Championship, and she opened the PGA Championship with successive rounds of 69, trailing eventual champion Danielle Kang by just three shots.
"Last year I got to play all the majors, as a rookie again on the LPGA, so that was really good. I think, just being a part of those big events, having never played in any of them before was a great experience. I didn't have to wait to get that experience this year or the year after," is how Aditi takes the experience gained in 2017.
She wasn't done on the LET, though, with a win at the Fatima Bint Mubarak Open in November making it her third tour title inside a year. "That was my third win on the European Tour and it was after the LPGA season, so I had a little time off before that," says Aditi. "I think I was just waiting to have a really good week -- all year, I had never got all four rounds together, and it happened in Abu Dhabi, and obviously it's a great, great moment to win."
Aditi, who remembers having first played golf as a "family activity" at the age of five, was quite clear she wanted to compete in the sport when she won her first national title at the age of nine. It is perhaps that competitive fire that has seen her graduate from the youth ranks at the Asian Games and the Olympics, to being in golf's top tour in a period of just four years.
"I am sure as a child I have missed a lot of school and then had to work hard extra hard to catch up with school. I have missed doing regular things like going out with friends, but I have always enjoyed playing golf so much that I have never really thought about what I was missing," she says. "I've won [titles] on the LET, but my next goal would be to win on the LPGA. Over my career, I hope I can win a lot and maybe be not just one of the best golfers from India, but maybe the best in the world too."