Feature

My Greatest Game: When Jeev Milkha busted a Spanish jinx 

Jeev Milkha Singh has four European Tour wins but the ones in Spain and Scotland stand out for one of India’s most decorated golfers.

By Rahul Venkat ·

With a name that is legendary to live up to, Jeev Milkha Singh has carved out a pretty good niche of his own in the sporting world.

The Indian golfer is one of the country’s most successful professionals, having won four European Tour titles in a career spanning more than two decades.

Jeev Milkha Singh was the first Indian golfer to play in the European Tour in 1998 and his first title win came eight years later at the Volvo China Open in 2006.

However, a win at the Volvo Masters later in the year in Spain counts among the favourite moments in his career.

Winners’ mentality at Volvo Masters

Coming into 2006, things were not looking great for Jeev Milkha Singh. The Indian golfer had been out of action in the previous year due to injury and his title drought had extended to almost seven years.

Jeev Milkha Singh, though, sounded out his intentions early in the year. He won his first European title at the Volvo China Open in April and it set the tone for the rest of the year, where he won four different tournaments and the Asian Order of Merit.

However, the then season-ending Volvo Masters at Spain’s Real Club Valderrama, the biggest event of the European Tour, was the victory he enjoyed the most. 

Jeev Milkha Singh had negotiated a tough course and also overcame a bit of popular golfing history.

“The record was that whoever played at Valderrama for the first time never won at that course,” Jeev Milkha Singh explained to the Olympic Channel. “I won it on my first attempt.

“It was special because it was a Tour Championships, only the top-60 players of the year could play and so obviously, I was up against the best in the European Tour,” he pointed out.

“I remember finishing a practice round and as I was walking back to the locker room, I stopped and thought to myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to win this thing.’ The history and the occasion just made me determined to get everything right and become the first person to do it.”

Jeev Milkha Singh won his second European Tour title at the Volvo Masters in 2006.

The self-confidence was perhaps the most important tool in his kit that week. 

After making the cut with even-par scores in the first two rounds, Jeev Milkha Singh stepped up in the third round with a field-best three-under. 

In the final round, the Indian golfer held his nerve to score another field-best two-under, with a clutch birdie on the par-5 17th helping him beat future Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington by a single stroke.

It was the perfect end to a brilliant comeback season as Jeev Milkha Singh also broke into the top-100 in the world and was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian government the very next year.

The coming years would bring more success for the Indian golfer, and none more so than his fourth European title, the Scottish Open, six years later. 

Winning at the home of golf

Jeev Milkha Singh’s second favourite moment of his career came at Castle Stuart Golf course in Scotland at the prestigious Scottish Open in 2012.

Having grown up playing golf in India, Jeev Milkha Singh was used to swinging the ball high in the air at tree-filled courses and hot conditions. However, none of those would help him out at the links course at Castle Stuart.

“In India, you never play on links courses, courses where there are no trees. In a course like that, you have a very low golf point, keep the ball as close to the ground as possible,” Jeev explained.

“It was also windy and so, you cannot hit the ball high because you never know where the wind will take it.”

And with no trees to break the wind, Jeev Milkha Singh could not employ the usual strategy of flying the ball to the flag. Instead, he had to pitch it 10-15 yards short of the green and then judge the bounce perfectly to make the shot.

“It was imperative to keep your hands warm, else you could not feel them and the wind blowing across feels like needles on your face,” Jeev added.

Coming into the final round, Italian Francesco Molinari, who had set a course record 62 in the first round, had held the lead in each of the previous three rounds. He looked like the favourite to take the title and emulate brother Edoardo Molinari, who won the Scottish Open in 2010.

However, Molinari could only manage an even-par 72 on the final day, his lowest score of the weekend, and Jeev Milkha Singh responded with a bogey-free 67 to tie level with him and force a playoff for the win.

With the momentum on his side, Jeev Milkha Singh coolly stepped up to birdie the first playoff hole, beating Molinari’s par and claimed a memorable victory and with it, an entry to the 2012 Open Championship. It has been his final European Tour title to date.