Seasoned Indian golfer Arjun Atwal returns to action next week at the USD 6.6 million 3M Open as the PGA Tour continues the 'Return to Golf' after weeks of inactivity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 46-year-old Atwal, who played the Rocket Mortgage Classic two weeks ago, remains the only Indian to have won on the PGA Tour. He won in 2010. Next week will be his tenth start in the 2019-20 season during which he has made only three cuts with a tied 41st at Bermuda being his best. He was tied 45th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Atwal's friend and fellow Indian Anirban Lahiri, who has playing rights and would have played some events by now during the last few weeks, is stuck in his country because of COVID-19-forced flight restrictions. "I am waiting for the flights to start and in the meantime I am tuning my game with my coach Vijay Divecha," said Lahiri, who is training at Kalhaar Blues and Greens in Ahmedabad.
A year ago, Atwal came into the 3M Open via the Monday Qualifiers after shooting a sensational nine-under 62 while playing the Victory Links Golf Course. He got his caddie, Harvard graduate Mark Mazo, to go and see the course and then played it for a 62. At the tournament he shot 65 to be tied 4th after first round, carded 68 on second to be tied 7th and added another 68 to be tied 9th after 54 holes. But a 70 on the final day saw him slip to tied 23 as Matt Wolff achieved a breakthrough win.
This year Atwal gets into 3M on the basis of a category that among others is meant for past champions and veteran members, who have made 150 and more cuts in their career. Atwal will also likely get into the Barracuda Championship being played the week after and opposite the WGC-St Jude in Tennessee. And finally he should also have a spot at the Wyndham Championship, which he won exactly 10 years ago. "To start with, playing two weeks in a row will be great," he said.
Does the thought of winning cross his mind? "That would be cool to win after so long. Also I am playing fine, am now as fit as I was 15 years ago and raring to go," said Atwal, who came into the 2010 Wyndham Championship as a Monday qualifier and went on to win the title. "I played decently in patches and took a lot of positives from Rocket Mortgage." said Atwal, who is marking his 25th year as a pro. "I have been around for a long time and have played all over, but this was a unique experience playing under such conditions, and without fans. I love playing with crowds. But these are different days and I am glad PGA Tour is taking a lot of precautions."
Atwal, who was tied 18 at one stage and had a chance of gunning for a Top-10, said, "I have been putting a lot since I came back from Detroit (Rocket Mortgage). I played well in most departments except that. That was a wake-up call of sorts. I had three putts, two of them on the final day and that ruined my chances of better finish." He finished tied 45th. He said, "Since Detroit, I have only been putting and doing wedges. Actually it took me a few days to recover from the tiredness since I played and walked after a long time. It's slightly better now." He laughed and added, "Maybe I am getting old."
American-Indian Sahith Theegala, 23, who won a series of 2019 College player of the Year awards, including Ben Hogan, Fred Haskins and Jack Nicklaus awards, has got a sponsor exemption. In his last two invites - the first two starts on the PGA Tour - Theegala missed cuts at Travelers and Rocket Mortgage Classic. He earlier made his pro debut on the Outlaw Tour and also played Genesis as an amateur. The field next week at 3M Open will include Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson among others.