MIDLAND, MICHIGAN | How fitting that one week before the Olympic opening celebrations, the world will be presented again with Aditi Ashok, who stepped into the world’s consciousness at the 2016 Games in Rio. Back then, the 19-year-old from India became the Cinderella story of golf’s return to the Olympics when he fired two 68s to fight at halftime before falling off.
Now at the age of 23 and with three Ladies European Tour wins on her résumé, Ashok is on the cusp of yet another breakthrough. She and her partner, 22-year-old Thai Pajaree Anannarukarn, are going into the finals of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational tied with defending champions Cydney Clanton and Jasime Suwannapura.
The Indian and Thai duo named their team The Spice Girls, a cute game with their bubbly personality and the fact that their local foods can make the uninitiated shine. “Thai and Indian food can be very spicy,” said Ashok with a raised eyebrow and a big smile.
More seriously, no Indian has ever won the LPGA tour, a fact that Ashok doesn’t miss out on. “I think it would be great, especially because we always had men who did well on international tours but not that many women,” she said. “I think it would be great for golf in India. But for me I have tried very hard and learned a lot over the past few years. Hopefully I can put everything together tomorrow. “
If she’s supposed to bring it all together, the player next to her is key.
Anannarukarn comes from a country full of tour stars, including Suwannapura, who will be in the bottom group with her, and Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn, who are two groups ahead and two strokes behind in the finals. But 22-year-old Anannarukarn still has to assert himself, neither on the LPGA tour nor on the Symetra tour. She was close – four top 15 finishes in her rookie year 2019, followed by four top 10 finishes in her only season on the Symetra tour, including one runner-up. But you’d never know she’d be without a win since she’s been hanging out at the Midland Country Club all week.
The Spice Girls are free of bogey through 54 holes, a remarkable achievement when you consider that two of the three rounds were fours (alternative shot), one of the toughest formats in golf. To give you a basis for comparison: Lydia Ko and Danielle Kang, who together have 21 wins and three major championships, carded three bogeys, one double and one triple in the third round alone. But not the Spice Girls. In the alternate shot, they fired 65 and 67 without bogeys, results that include a bogey-free 63 in four-ball game.
“I don’t think we expected anything other than to play every stroke and support each other with every stroke,” said Anannarukarn.
Low expectations and enjoying each other’s company have been the keys so far. They have known each other since they were young golfers in Asia, something Ashok said brought them closer together.
“There are just fewer Asians (who play junior golf),” she said. “No Koreans, just Asians, apart from Korea. So in the end we played a lot of tournaments together. “
This friendship has translated into a level of comfort in each other’s games.
“At the team event, I know that she is very confident with her irons and wedges when I hit the green. So if I just hit it, maybe not very close, but if she sees a ball on the green, she can go straight on, ”said Ashok of the team strategy. “That is definitely one of the keys to fourball.”
As for the foursome, something Ashok only played twice in her life, and one of them with her father when she was 9, she said, “I think when I play alone I obviously try my best. But I think having a partner who hits your next shot increases the pressure. But it also makes you a lot hotter because I know I want her to have the easiest stroke or putt.
“That motivates me to hit close or in a good spot.
“Yes,” interjected Anannarukarn. “I think what I like about alternative attitudes is that we support each other out there, no matter what.”
Ashok added, “I think the pressure of winning a golf tournament isn’t as great tomorrow because you know you have a partner to play another shot and you know they have a chance if you miss a putt. “
It is a long way to go before a champion is crowned in this event. But Ashok has come a long way. She’s no longer the big-eyed teenager from the Rio games. She is a confident young woman with a goal greater than herself.
“Technically, I feel a little better and a lot more experienced,” she said. “But I would like to think that I’m the same as a person because the Olympics came and went and golf is still not that popular in India. So I try to do my best every week to achieve that. “