Gold should have been hers.
Aditi Ashok walked away from the 18th hole at the end of Round 4 of the women’s individual golf event at the 19th Asian Games with a silver medal, and the feat of becoming the first Indian woman to medal at the Asian Games – yet the celebration was barely there. A perfunctory handshake with gold-winner Arpichaya Yubol of Thailand and her caddy, and the 25-year-old Indian walked away wondering what could have been, after a disappointing final round score of 77.
“You’re never totally happy unless you win so I’m not too happy right now. I’m sure some day I’ll look back and think it was a good week but silver is not better than gold,” said Aditi afterwards.
Rewind back a couple of years, at the Tokyo Olympics, Aditi had India waking up at 4am and wondering what could have been. Then ranked 200 in the world, the Indian golfer had raised hopes of a medal with a stellar Round 3, but faded away on the final day to finish fourth. Plenty of hearts were won that day however, but the feeling isn’t as generous as history repeated itself in the West Lake International Golf Course in Hangzhou. Aditi even noted it was worse than Tokyo, saying “When I got fourth in Tokyo, I wasn’t inconsistent like today. There, it was just four good rounds and somebody else was a few shots better. Today I kind of threw it away. I played five over. You see my previous three rounds and they were nothing like today.”
Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the West Lake International course describes itself as a study in contrasts, with 9 holes perfect for golfers of all handicap levels and the other 9 featuring ‘significant elevation changes and a challenging layout for the more experienced golfers.’ Aditi’s Round 3 and 4 were a study in contrasts too. While Round 4 was quite the disappointment, in Round 3, Aditi had made the course seem like one for beginners, turning in a stunning 11-under par score of 61, sinking birdie after birdie in nine holes and even an eagle in hole 9. Over the course of four days, across twenty golfers (that included those ranked as high as world no. 13 Xiyu Lin of China), the next best score was a -7 under par score of 65.
Aditi’s masterclass in Round 3 had put her as a certainty for gold, with even hopes of a team medal for India. She had a total score of 22-under and a seven-stroke lead over Arpichaya going into the final day. Her opponent was ranked 206th in the world – Aditi had climbed to 47th over the course of the last two years.
A large part of her climb up the rankings came from her improvement in driving distances, which was a significant part of why she finished only fourth in Tokyo. A COVID-19 recovery might have exacerbated things then, but it was always a weakness of her game.
Speaking to LET Golf earlier this year, Aditi admitted as much, saying “Last year I was ranked last in driving distance on the LPGA [tour], so that put things in perspective, and I said, ‘I have to be better at this’ otherwise I probably won’t be able to have deep finishes, especially in the stronger fields.”
It seemed to have worked, Aditi now sinking a hole-in-one as recently as September from a par-three hole. And yet, it was a par-three hole that caused her downfall.
Hole 16 had already caused her problems in Round 2, with Aditi having to bogey – her only score above par in the 54 holes she had navigated going into the final day. With water hazards quite close to the putting green, the temptation to drive towards it and aim for the birdie is what sets the sixteenth hole apart. It caught out the experienced Xiyu Lin as well, but 22-year-old Arpichaya played it safe on all days – opting to chase a par score every time and stay away from the water.
Aditi’s driving, stellar in the first three rounds – went missing in the final round. “I shot my career-best round (61) yesterday and probably my worst of the year today. I just had a few bad swings. I missed a lot of fairways too, which didn’t help,” said the 25-year-old.
Aditi already had four bogeys to her name going into the sixteenth hole on Round 4, but still led by a couple of strokes. The pressure had been taking its toll – with memories of her final day in Tokyo probably flashing over and over like a horrific TikTok – and the putts that she had been sinking in all day in Round 3 were kissing the cup, falling short or going past. Perhaps that’s why she took the risk, but as Aditi backed herself to hit the putting green right with a drive from the tee, she could only watch in horror as her drive took a bounce and plopped straight into the water.
Her hopes of gold lay at the bottom of a narrow tiny lake, the sinking feeling within her mirrored by her golf ball. Taking the one stroke penalty thereafter, Aditi’s chip from the rough overshot the hole and she putted the ball in thereafter for a double bogey. 5 strokes to complete the hole when she had been aiming for two. A bad day had just turned worse.
The only hope was for Arpichaya to choke, but the young Thai golfer held her nerve against her higher rated opponents. A couple of impressive drives and a chip had brought her onto the putting green, but the undulating nature of the surface made it a tricky shot. Or so it would seem – a brilliantly measured curved putt straight into the hole, and the Thai golfer had a birdie and went two strokes up on Aditi. The Indian had to settle for par after even a great chip shot onto the putting green saw her ball spin far away – the luck had clearly deserted her.
The final hole was but a formality, and the duo both had par scores to wrap up an absorbing day. Aditi, often a quiet, reserved person on tour, was somewhat emotive as her shoulders slumped, with her head bowed down – the very definition of the pain of silver. She went to admit to that pain later, saying “”It wasn’t a good day. I played bad. There’s no way around saying it. But overall if I look at my four-day score it’s pretty good. Seventeen under; at the start of the week I would have taken that. It’s just that when you shoot five over on the last day it doesn’t feel as good.”
Yet, if her improvement in driving is anything to go by, you can bet that these Round 4 demons will be next on her list, as Aditi tees off, day after day, drive after drive, in pursuit of the dream that gold will be hers someday.