Osaka (Japan), April 22: Indian golfer Rahil Gangjee on Sunday clinched the Panasonic Open title in style by hitting a birdie in the last hole to end a 14-year-long title drought here. The 39-year-old Gangjee was tied with Korea’s Hyungsung Kim on 13-under going into the 18th and the final hole. The Indian held his nerves to hit a birdie on the final hole to end with a score of 14-under and bag the title.
Gangjee had won his maiden Asian Tour title in China way back in 2004. The win brought Gangjee a lot of benefits, including a winner's cheque of over USD 283,000 plus a bonus of USD 50,000 for finishing second on the Panasonic Swing behind Shiv Kapur (who got USD 70,000). Gangjee also got two-year exemptions into Asian and Japan Tours.
Only the colour of the beard has changed.. the smile is as charming as usual.— V Krishnaswamy (@Swinging_Swamy) April 22, 2018
Just located an old clipping pic of @GangjeeR from 2004 win. And we have the 2018 win pic too. @TheJoyofGolf @Arjunatwal @anirbangolf @JeevMilkhaSingh @PGTITOUR @BDS_Golfguru @usmundy2 pic.twitter.com/jhdixmbEYc
In the intervening period from 2004 to the present, Gangjee had finished second three times, third another three times and had a total of 22 Top-10s. Earlier this year, Gangjee had pulled out of Myanmar and Singapore events because of a stomach bug, so this win makes up for all those.
Gangjee became the third Indian after Jyoti Randhawa (Suntory Open 2003), Jeev Milkha Singh (2 in 2006 and 2 in 2008) to win a Japan Tour title. Last year, Ajeetesh Sandhu won a 36-hole event on Japan Challenge Tour last year.
Kolkata-born Gangjee wanted to be a jockey before his father convinced him to take up golf because he was afraid of his son getting injured. Little over a year ago Gangjee moved to Bengaluru and the move seemed to pay off.
An emotional Gangjee said, "It has been 14 years. I’ve been in such situations a few times now but obviously have not been able to convert my chances until today. It has been a very hard 14 years and the thing that surprises even myself is my will to keep going."
Not forgetting all those who helped him in this period, Gangjee added, "Everyone played their part in helping me out, my caddie, my mother, father, wife, friends. But more than anything else, you have to want it. And that has kept me going. My heart rate was up and my mind started going all over the place. That was the chance I had to convert.
"My third shot out of the bunker was not really a tough shot. But under the pressure it could have been a very tough one. But somehow I was calm. My bunker play is one of the strongest aspects of my game. A lot of people don't get to see it, but if you ask my caddie, he will tell you that's the best," he added.
It was a massive relief for Gangjee, who did not have playing rights anywhere, including in India, when he came from US after losing his Nationwide (now Web.com) card in 2012. He earned the 61st and final card for 2018 season.
Among other Indians who played in the final round, Ajeetesh Sandhu (69), the last Indian to win in Japan, was tied-10, while SSP Chawrasia (73), a one-time room partner of Gangjee, was tied-40 and Arjun Atwal (75), a former neighbour of Gangjee in Kolkata, was tied-44.
Gangjee, who started one shot behind Hyungsung Kim, had a birdie on second, which the Korean matched. But both Gangjee and Kim, who has not won on the Asian Tour despite playing on it for years, were tentative on the rest of the front nine. They bogeyed twice each, while another Korean Hwang Junggon, a group behind, caught up with three birdies on the front nine. The Korean duo was tied at 11-under with Gangjee at 10-under.
So proud of you @GangjeeR! What a performance and nerves of steel to win his first international title after 14 years. You set an example in perseverance and dedication my friend. #PanasonicOpenChampionship @asiantourgolf— Jeev Milkha Singh (@JeevMilkhaSingh) April 22, 2018
On the back nine, it was Gangjee who made the move first and Kim followed suit. Gangjee had a superb run of three birdies from 12th to 14th, which carried him back to 13-under, while Kim birdied 13 and 14 to get to 13-under. Hwang birdied 12th to get to 12-under. Kim and Gangjee stayed steady with pars for next three holes and were still at 13-under. Hwang bogeyed the 16th but birdied 17th and 18th to set the clubhouse target of 13-under.
Many congratulations to @GangjeeR for his victory at #PanasonicOpenChampionship, ends 14-year wait for his 2nd international title, becomes 3rd Indian to win on #JapanGolfTour after #JyotiRandhawa & @JeevMilkhaSingh @asiantourgolf pic.twitter.com/nmF6NZLMDu— PGTI (@PGTITOUR) April 22, 2018
When Kim and Gangjee came to the 18th tee, there was a three-way tie for lead. Kim went into the bunker and then Gangjee went into the bunker off the second shot. That’s when Gangjee pulled off a great third shot and completed a great up-and-down to birdie the 18th and get to 14-under. Kim managed only a par and stayed at 13-under with Hwang to finish second.