You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Aditi Ashok of India makes a mark in Olympic golf

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 19-08-2016 Steve DiMeglio
Aditi Ashok of India acknowledges the cheers at No. 18. © Michael Madrid, USA TODAY Sports Aditi Ashok of India acknowledges the cheers at No. 18.

An estimated 1 in 10,000 people in India play golf. One of them is teenager Aditi Ashok, who made history earlier this year when she became the first Indian and the youngest player ever to win Q School for the Ladies European Tour.

Now she is in position to win a gold medal.

At 18, Ashok is the youngest player in the field of the women’s golf tournament at the Olympic Golf Course and for the second consecutive round she took on the look of a veteran. With her father, Ashok Gudlamani, on the bag and with a second 3-under-par 68, Ashok, who still had to take her final exams in high school after she turned pro, is on the first page of the leaderboard.

At 6 under, she’s four shots out of the lead.

“Well, I didn't expect to be there obviously,” said Ashok, who is ranked No. 462 in the world. “I just tried to follow my game plan and do my best every day, and now I'm up there, so I'm really looking forward to the weekend.”

She already has beaten the odds. India is home to 1.25 billion people and just 200 golf courses. And Ashok took up the game at 5 by happenstance. She and her parents were having breakfast at a restaurant near a golf course and saw people hitting golf balls. They walked to the course after finishing their meals and the game had Ashok at the first putt.

“Golf every day is different. You never hit the same shot twice. So every day is a new experience, and you can't really come with any expectations,” Ashok said. “The game is bigger than all of us, so that's what I like about it. Every day, you have a new experience.”

Rio Olympics: Complete coverage

She’s won several big amateur titles but has yet to win as a professional.

Next week, Ashok, who counts Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies among her heroes, will travel to Palm Springs, Calif., to play in the first stage of the Q School for the LPGA tour.

But a medal-winning performance here would be huge. For she’s not playing just for herself. Or for her dad and mom. She’s playing for India.

“I think it would be big in India, and also being a golfer, a woman golfer, it will definitely boost the popularity of the sport. That's what I'm hoping to do,” she said. “In India golf is growing. It's much better than it was five or 10 years ago but it's still not where it should be. We still need to have a lot more golf courses and a lot more juniors playing the sport. I'm hoping that happens soon. Golf is still pretty expensive in India compared to other sports. It's not like golf has reached schools.”

Despite her youthful appearance and age, Ashok has been composed throughout the first two rounds. She said she gets that from her mother, Mash, whom she has been Skyping with for an hour a day the past week. Her father has been instrumental, too, for he said, with a smile, that all he does is wipe the clubs and stay out of his daughter’s way.

“I really rarely ask him anything, but when I do, he keeps it short,” Ashok said. “It's good.”

Her father said the two have been getting a lot of messages from people back in India since Ashok shot 68 in the opening round. He said his daughter was passionate about golf, especially putting, and took it from there.

“From the age of 7, she started playing junior tournaments. In India, we don't have a separate tournament for girls, boys, kids, so boys and girls played together. So from an early age, she's been competing with the boys,” he said. “I guess that helped her. She was a pretty short hitter. So she's worked hard on that short game. In fact, she worked from the green towards the tee box with her game.

“ … Hopefully she'll make the sport popular and a lot of kids pick up and golf becomes another great sport in India. Luckily she's doing well and a lot of people are looking up to her.”

More From USA TODAY

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon