Golf star Aditi paves way for Indian women

Peter STEBBINGS
AFP
Indian golfer Aditi Ashok is the only player from her country on the prestigious LPGA Tour (AFP Photo/Gregory Shamus)

Indian golfer Aditi Ashok is the only player from her country on the prestigious LPGA Tour

Indian golfer Aditi Ashok is the only player from her country on the prestigious LPGA Tour (AFP Photo/Gregory Shamus)

Aditi Ashok is the only Indian player on the prestigious US-based LPGA Tour and the biggest name in Indian women's golf.

So when she says that old attitudes are slowly changing, she should know.

Just 20 years old, insiders say that Aditi has the talent to inspire a generation of women golfers in India, much like former world number one Feng Shanshan in China.

Aditi is used to expectations -- she represented India at the Rio 2016 Olympics when she was only 18.

And while she finished well out of medal contention, it helped put the game she has played since she was five on the map back home.

"It's getting better, we've had men on the bigger tours, like the European Tour and PGA Tour, but very few women, but I think now it's growing," Aditi told AFP at the Buick LPGA Shanghai on Friday.

Aditi, who was at even-par 144 at the halfway stage, estimates that there are only about 20 to 30 professional women golfers in India.

That is a piddly number when you consider that the country has a population of nearly 1.4 billion.

Asked if she faced discrimination from those back home who feel that women should not play golf, she said: "Not really, maybe 50 or 60 years ago, but not now, India has advanced.

"Having said that, 70 percent of India is rural so in the villages they would not even have heard of golf or even think of sport -- let alone golf -- as a career.

"But that is changing slowly as the popularity of golf grows.

"The Olympics helped a lot because a lot of people who would not normally follow golf followed just because it was an Olympic sport."

Aditi became the first Indian to win on the Ladies European Tour (LET) when -- as a rookie -- she triumphed at the Hero Women's Indian Open in 2016.

The Bangalore native, whose father carries her bag, was named LET rookie of the year, underlining her promise.

She is now chasing her first LPGA victory and is aware that she is something of a trailblazer for Indian women's golf.

"We had three or four girls on the European Tour last year, before we never really had anybody," she said.

According to Aditi, who started playing golf with her family "and never stopped", there are still five times more men Indian golfers and they earn more money than the women.

"It's about more girls getting to play," she said.

"Before it wasn't really considered a game that juniors played -- and junior girls were very few -- but as those numbers grow, it's going to get better."

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