Ten years is a long time but to Indian golfer Arjun Atwal, the memory of his historic win at the Wyndham Championships is still fresh and he would be aiming to draw confidence from it when he tees up at the event this week. It was one of the many firsts Atwal achieved in his life - the first Indian to win on the European Tour (2002), the first Indian to win on the Korn Ferry Tour (then called Nationwide in 2008) and then the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour (2010).
He was also the first Indian to reach the million-dollar mark in prize money on Asian Tour (2003) and the first to earn a PGA Tour card in 2004. His 50th birthday is still three years away but Atwal is getting ready for a new challenge – the Champions Tour for over 50s.
"I want to be the first to win on the Champions Tour, too," he says with a throaty laugh
The United States, where he lives in Orlando, is not new for him. He studied there and then after some amateur golf, decided to turn pro in 1995, when he was 22.
The Asian Tour, then called the Asian PGA Tour, was formed that year and Atwal was keen to play on it and slowly make his way to Europe and then finally the US. In 2005, he was the 20th alternate (reserve) for the BellSouth Classic, but he ended up getting into a play-off which was won by Phil Mickelson. And in 2010 he played the Monday qualifiers for Wyndham and went on to win the title itself, something which is so rare on the PGA tour.
"That was awesome and so cool," he recalled.
This year Atwal has a sponsor's exemption into the event, starting August 13. "I still have the desire to win as long my body can still perform. If those things are there, then I will play. As of right now, I am feeling great," said Atwal, who played the Rocket Mortgage, 3M Open and Barracuda and made cut in all three. "At 47 three cuts in three is not bad." Over the years he has also been hit by back and other troubles, but claims to be at his fittest right now.
"Right now I am at my fittest. Back to the weight I was at (185 pounds) when I first came to the PGA Tour in 2005. I lost 15 pounds," he proudly announces. "This year, I made a commitment to get fitter. I wanted to see how fit I could be and also to get rid of the aches and pains...the legs feel stronger and I've added swing speed. I am hitting the ball longer than in the last five to six years," he said. On his kids and future, he says, "I enjoy the successes of my sons (Krishen and Shiva). They play basketball, though the younger one (Shiva) also likes golf. It's their choice.
"All I do is to try and tell them about work ethic in sport. I wanted them to see me work hard even now (at this age) and do the same by example," he adds. This week at Wyndham Atwal will once again have Anirban Lahiri for company. "Anirban is finally here after a long time. Stuck in India during COVID-19 lockdown, he was finally able to come and play at Wyndham. It is so cool to have another fellow Indian in the field," he said. As for for himself, Atwal said, "I will give it a good shot. Try to turn the clock back. That will be nice and contend on Sunday."