Vikram Sethi: Teaching Golf in India

BY Paul Smith | 12 Jun 2006
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iseekgolf.com has a wider international audience than sometimes we might believe. One of India’s top coaches, Vikram Sethi, enjoys reading iseekgolf.com and took the time to chat recently with Paul Smith, iseekgolf’s resident golf guru.

Vikram is the first Authorised Instructor of The Golfing Machine (USA) in India, Master Teaching Professional certified by The Professional Golf Teachers Association of America, Staff professional and official club fitting professional for Titleist, qualified golf tournament referee St. Andrews, Scotland, Golf Physical Conditioning Specialist – National Endurance and Sports Training Association of America, Certified Instructor of the Indian Golf Union, Certified Instructor of Professional Golf Association Of India and a Category A teaching Professional at Delhi Golf Club, New Delhi.

Q: Vikram, India has an interesting, if small, part in golf history.

Vikram Sethi: Yes, it does indeed. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club founded in 1829 is the oldest golf club outside the British Isles, the oldest, of course, being The Royal and Ancient, St. Andrews in Scotland. The ’Royal’ has been the shared venue of the All India National Championship since 1958 and has played host to some of golf’s all-time greats, both Indians and Internationals, such as I.S. Malik, H.S. Malik, Major P.G. Sethi, Walter Hagen and Pamela Barton, to name but a few. The ’Royal’ has produced some of the best amateurs in India. Some of them might have had their beginnings elsewhere, but they have matured into champions, playing their formative years at the Royal.

Golf now is spread all over the country. Courses have sprung up in nearly all towns. It’s the fastest growing game in India on the back of a booming economy.

Q: India has produced a few players that have ventured out on Tour?

Vikram Sethi: Golf in India was at one time considered as a game for the economically privileged as well as people who belonged to high society, as it was expensive and unaffordable by the general public. Until about the last fifteen years a great change has been seen in the popularity of the game. International Golf television broadcasts were the medium that set the hearts and souls of youngsters and amateur golfers on fire, and the desire to play in the various tours awakened.

The Indian Open became a part of the Asian Circuit, and the sponsors though few at first, started seeing the game growing bigger and more popular with the youngsters. Caddies who picked up bags for members saw a possibility of making far more money than carrying bags and started swinging clubs with a purpose and goal in mind. Up came a generation of new- age golfers, hoping to be theTiger Woods of tomorrow, and a whole new era of Indian golf emerged.

In fact, two Indian players have been the No 1 Order of Merit on the Asian tour. Arjun Atwal and Daniel Chopra are presently on the US PGA tour. Jyoti Randhawa, Jeev Milkha Singh and budding Shiv Kapur (winner of the Asian Games Gold Medal) along with a host of others play on the Asian Tour, so we do have some players to follow with a local interest around the world.

Q: I believe your family has some claims to fame within India’s past and present?

Vikram Sethi: Yes, I belong to a family of golfers. My grandfather, N.R. Sethi and nicknamed “Little”, was an avid golfer and represented India in the Eisenhower Cup and many other tournaments the world over. My uncle “Billoo” Sethi was at the time emerging as a great cricketer but because of some internal politics wasn’t included in the National team, which disheartened him. On his father’s suggestion, he took up golf at the age of 25 and became the finest golfer that India had produced. His legendary win at the Indian Open in 1965 was as an amateur. There he prevailed over the great Peter Thompson by a full seven shots, and this was the golfing pinnacle of his life. They were great friends. He won the National Amateur Championship of India five times. His ability to strike the ball the way he did and some of the recovery shots he played to win tournaments are still talked of today by fellow members. He unfortunately passed away twenty years ago. He was the only golfer In India to date to have had a handicap of 3.

I learned to play golf watching him play and tried to swing the way he did. I obviously developed correct fundamentals of the game, and I had no formal lessons in golf but managed to play to a scratch handicap for a while. So that’s not too bad. Guess I was a good mimic.

Q: How is the golfing scene shaping up on the subcontinent?

Vikram Sethi: The game is becoming lucrative in India, and people can make a living playing the game for money. The Indian Open, which is now also a part of the Asian Tour is a US$300,000 prize money tournament and is expected to double in the next three years. The Indian Circuit is young and was set up as late as 1992. As yet the sponsors are few, but it is growing every year, and we will surely see some big events on the local tour too.

We have eight championship courses around Delhi, three of which have been designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman. New golf course projects are in the pipeline, and we expect to have many more world-class championship courses all over the country in a few years.

Q: What is life like for a Touring Pro on the Asian Circuits?

Vikram Sethi: Well, it’s just like any other circuit I guess, hard work and gruelling weeks of grinding effort. The weather on the Asian Tour is sultry and hot throughout the year, so it can get pretty rough from an endurance perspective. The quality of play is high, though, and scoring is on par with the other tours of the world.

Q: Is the depth of coaching skills growing in India?

Vikram Sethi: Yes, for sure. We till now had no official body authorised to teach and educate the teaching professionals in India. This is now in place, and we are also now affiliated with the European PGA. Most clubs and driving ranges in the country now only employ certified teaching professionals from the Indian National Golf Academy, so there will continue to be better teachers and,therefore, better results. We have at present only a few A grade teaching pros in India, but I am sure the numbers will grow.

Q: What made you decide to teach the game?

Vikram Sethi: My love for the game for one. Lots of kids were getting into the game, and I thought I had the ability to teach the game due to my temperament and years of playing experience as a top amateur. I felt there was a shortage of good teaching staff at my club, so I applied to teach, and I was taken in. That’s when I turned professional – just to teach. I then came in touch with Paul Smith from iseekgolf.com and ventured overseas on his advise and became an Authorised Instructor of The Golfing Machine, an experience I shall never forget, and I cannot thank him enough for that recommendation.. In fact, I am the only Teaching Professional In India with such a credential and one out of approximately 300 Authorised Instructors in the world today. I also have a Golf fitness diploma from Nesta USA and am a clubfitting and staff professional for Titleist.

I enjoy teaching immensely. After seeing and assessing the results of my efforts, I feel I should have made the decision years ago. It has become a passion for me to see young talent grow. It’s fascinating, and the greatest gift you can give to another human being is the gift of knowledge and the satisfaction of accomplishment.

My prize student Chiraagh Kumar, 21, won the Pakistan Amateur title late last year. We have been working together for well over a year now, and he has improved his rankings in India dramatically. Solid down and out basics and a flat left wrist were his keys to the win.

Q: What is the market penetration like of equipment and technology in India?

Vikram Sethi: We have all the major golf brands represented in India. Club fitting is available, but it’s an artful science to fit clubs, so just a couple of people actually fit clubs. Obviously, upcoming players will benefit from advancing technology and availability of the latest golf equipment. It’s a sea of choices in equipment out there and one on which we could do with a few more seaworthy boats.

So for those of you who travel to India, even if it’s for a cricket tour, you now know someone who might just be able to schedule you a round of golf while you are there.

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    About the Author: Paul Smith

    Paul Smith holds a Master Craftsman's rank certified by the Golf Clubmakers Association in the USA and is one of only 220 Authorised Instructors of The Golfing Machine (Bachelors in Golf Stroke Engineering). Clients get a first class education session whether it be fixing a swing fault or building clubs from scratch to suit a player's ability.


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