MIDLAND, MICHIGAN | As is fitting that a week before the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, the world be reintroduced Aditi Ashok, who burst into world consciousness in Rio at the 2016 Games. At the time, the 19-year-old Indian became the story of Cinderella’s return from golf to the Olympics, shooting a pair of 68s to wrestle halfway through before collapsing.
Now at 23 and with three Ladies European Tour wins to his credit, Ashok is on the verge of making another breakthrough. She and her partner, Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand, 22, enter the final round of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational tied for the lead with defending champions Cydney Clanton and Jasime Suwannapura.
The Indian and Thai duo named their team The Spice Girls, a cute play on their bubbly personalities and the fact that their native foods can brighten up the uninitiated. “Thai and Indian food can be very spicy,” Ashok said with a raised eyebrow and a big smile.
More seriously, no Indian has ever won the LPGA Tour, a fact that is not lost on Ashok. “I think it would be amazing, especially because we’ve always had men who do well on international tours but not so many women,” she said. “I think it would be amazing for golf in India. But for me, I’ve really tried the last few years and learned a lot. So I hope to be able to put everything in place tomorrow.
If she wants to put it all together, the key will be the player next to her.
Anannarukarn hails from a country full of touring stars including Suwannapura, who will be in the final group with her, and Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn, who will start the final round two groups ahead and two strokes behind. But 22-year-old Anannarukarn has yet to break through, neither on the LPGA Tour nor on the Symetra Tour. She’s been close – four top-15s in her rookie year of 2019, which followed four top-10s, including a runner-up, in her only season on the Symetra Tour. But you’d never know she’s winless from the way she’s held up at Midland Country Club all week.
The Spice Girls are bogeyless over 54 holes, a remarkable feat considering that two of the three rounds were foursomes (alternate strokes), one of the most difficult formats in golf. To give you a basis for comparison, Lydia Ko and Danielle Kang, who together have 21 wins and three major championships, recorded three bogeys, one double and one triple in the third round alone. But not the Spice Girls. In alternative fire, they shot 65 and 67 without bogeys, scores that border a 63 without a bogey in four-ball play.
“I don’t think we expected anything other than playing every shot and supporting each other with every shot,” said Anannarukarn.
Low expectations and enjoying each other’s company have been key so far. They’ve known each other since the days of junior golfers in Asia, something Ashok says has brought them together.
“There are just fewer Asians (playing junior golf),” she said. “Not Koreans but just Asians outside of Korea. So we ended up playing a lot of tournaments together.
This friendship resulted in a level of comfort with everyone’s games.
“With the team event I know if I hit the greens she’s really confident with her irons and wedges so if I hit just up close maybe not very close but if she sees a ball on the green she can go straight for it, “Ashok said of the team’s strategy.” This is definitely one of the keys to the four-ball.
As for the quartets, something Ashok has only played twice in her life and one of them was with her dad when she was 9, she said, “I think when I play alone, obviously. I am doing my best. But I think having a partner who’s going to hit your next shot just adds pressure. But it also makes you a lot more precise because I know I want her to have the easiest stroke possible or the easiest putt on the left.
“That’s what motivates me to hit him up close or in the right place.
“Yeah,” Anannarukarn added. “I think what I love about alternative shooting is that we support each other no matter what. “
Ashok added, “I think the pressure that comes with winning a golf tournament isn’t as great tomorrow because you know you have a partner who plays another stroke and you know if you miss a shot. putt, she has a chance. “
There is a long way to go before a champion of this event is crowned. But Ashok has already come a long way. She’s no longer the wide-eyed teenager from the Rio Games. She is a balanced young woman with a bigger goal than herself.
“In golf, I feel like I’m a little better and a lot more experienced,” she said. “But I would like to think that I am the same as a person because the Olympics are over and golf is still not as popular in India. So, I try to do my best every week to make this happen.