Sabir Hussain/New Delhi
More than 30 years ago in March 1991, Ali Sher made history to become the first Indian professional to win the Indian Open Golf championship.
His victory broke the foreign stranglehold on the tournament as he finished with a dramatic birdie on the final hole to spark a revolution in Indian golf.
The man who is also known as Ali Baba went on to prove that the victory was no fluke when he won it again for the second time in 1993 defeating one of his main challengers, Firoz Ali of Kolkata by one stroke
His spectacular Indian Open triumph signalled the surge of caddie-turned professionals storming the sport in India. In the 1991 edition of the India Open, Basad Ali finished fourth and Santosh Kumar finished a joint ninth place in a field that had many foreigners.
Between 1993 and 2019, Indian golfers have won the Indian Open ten times.
But Ali Sher did not start off as a professional golfer. He was a caddie and had learned the game when he used to accompany his father who was also a caddie in the Delhi Golf Club.
Ali Sher won the Indian Open twice
“We did not have clubs at that time. We used to make clubs and drivers of wood and play with them,” he told Awaz-The Voice as he recalled the struggles when he learned to play the game.
His has been a classic rags-to-riches story. The second of eight siblings, he was barely 18 when his father died and the responsibility of taking care of the family fell on his shoulders because his elder brother was physically challenged.
“The option was to choose between a game like golf in which I had no assured future or find a job with a steady income,” says Ali.
He chose to go with his gut feeling and threw in his lot with golf. Although the journey to stardom was tough because of financial constraints, he was lucky to find some kind of sponsorship as he made progress in the game.
“Ravi Talwar, an influential businessman, took me under his wings and paid for my travel and accommodation,” he remembers.
Ali turned professional in 1982 and his first major success came in 1988 when he won the DCM Open. The winner’s cheque of Rs 10,000 was big money for him in those days and eased his financial burden to some extent. Three years later he went on to make history at the Indian Open.
The winner's purse of Rs 5 lakh at the Indian Open was a fortune in 1991 and it helped Ali rebuild the family’s home in a congested part of Delhi’s Nizamuddin basti. Another reward for winning the championship was that the Delhi Golf Club gave him a membership which was otherwise a costly proposition.
His triumph also got him the Arjuna Award that year.
During his days as a struggling young golfer, there was no concept of physical fitness, particularly among caddie-turned professionals and he certainly wasn’t one who gave high priority to fitness.
“There was no question of going to gyms. I just practiced yoga for some time. A golf tournament goes on for days and is quite physical in itself which seemed to take care of my fitness,” says Ali.
He has three sons and three daughters. Only one of his sons plays golf but sponsorship is still hard to come by.
“It is so ironic. Sponsors run after better players who are already well known. They don’t seem to understand that it is the budding players who need sponsorship support more than established players,” Ali says.
At 61, most of his time is now spent coaching young golfers and taking part in club championships.
The man who triggered a golf revolution in India is happy that current players are very good at their game.
“So many Indians have won the Indian Open since 1991 which only proves that our golfers are indeed quite good. And we had four players in the Tokyo Olympics. All I can say is that the future of golf is bright in India,” he says.