Arjun Atwal

New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) Indian golfer Arjun Atwal is set to launch a title challenge at the Hero Indian Open — starting from March 9 — in the tournament which propelled him to stardom nearly 20 years ago.

Atwal claimed his maiden Asian Tour victory at the National Open in 1999, which subsequently paved his way to a stellar career that now includes eight tournament wins across the region and also one in the United States.

In addition, he became Asia’s No.1 in 2003, was the first golfer to break $1 million in career earnings on the Asian Tour and entered the history books by becoming the first Indian golfer to win on the European Tour and PGA Tour.

The 43-year-old reckoned that he is still very capable of competing at the highest level in Asia and he is turning his attention to the Indian Open, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

“I’m looking forward to it, it’s our national open. It’s fun as you get to play in front of family and friends. I’ve won at the old course at DLF a long time ago and it’s a brand new course now. I think it’s going to be a challenging test as the greens are very undulating,” Atwal said.

He recalled with great fondness his career breakthrough which he achieved in the 1999 Indian Open at his home course at Royal Calcutta Golf Club.

“Winning then was fantastic. Obviously I’d never won on the Asian Tour, I’d come close and kept knocking on the door on many occasions. But to do it for the first time at home in front of everybody, my family and friends, that was really special,” said Atwal.

“It gave me the confidence that I could win and I did go on to win quite a few more tournaments. It’s been a fulfilling career. I had set goals for myself and I got to most of my goals. You know, I was the first Indian to win on the European Tour, the first to win on the PGA Tour— that can never be taken away from me. It’s always going to be special to me,” he added.

The injuries in recent years has forced Atwal to readjust his playing schedule and tweak his golf swing to avoid the risk of enduring spasms.

With today’s modern game now trending towards a new and young generation of golfers, Atwal believes he is still very capable of competing and winning on the Asian Tour.

“As long as my health is okay, if I can get into contention, I know I can hold my nerve and win again. I proved it when I won in Dubai (in 2014 which was his last Asian Tour victory). When I got into that position, it all came back. It was no big deal handling the pressure. That’s why I’m still playing,” said Atwal.

Talking about his injury, Atwal said: “The back is better. I’m trying to figure out a few things in my golf swing where my back doesn’t go out. It’s almost like the same injury that Tiger (Woods) is having. If the joints go out of position, the lower back will go into spasm.”

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